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Enclosed Space Entry An Interview with Capt. Kuba Szymanski – InterManager

In May 2019, InterManager, the international trade association for the ship management sector, released the report from its 3-month Enclosed Space Entry survey, data for which was received from almost 250 ships, representing more than 5,000 seafarers. Capt. Kuba Szymanski, Secretary General of InterManager talked exclusively with Seagull recently about the survey and its results, why InterManager got involved and where the project is going.

Are you surprised that seafarers are still dying in Enclosed Spaces?
Well, in a way, I am surprised – after all, it’s 2019 and we have surely got the understanding and technology to prevent these things happening? Right? I have to say though, as the results started coming in to the InterManager survey, they pretty quickly confirmed what we suspected – that we are a long way from having this sorted. And the more the seafarers told us in their responses, the less surprised I became that these tragic incidents are still happening.

Why did InterManager choose to get involved with Enclosed Space Entry issues?
InterManager prides itself on being ‘in touch’ with the industry, but at all levels and especially with what is actually happening on board ships. ‘At the coal face’ or ‘on the factory floor’, you might say. Over recent years, we have become aware that Enclosed Space Entry has been an ongoing issue. There have been some changes to regulations and improvements to training regimes, but accidents are still happening. We saw an opportunity to step in, to get some real information, analyse and share it, with a view to helping create a safer environment at sea. We realised it could be contentious and that we might not be popular with some people for doing so, but if it saves lives, then it is absolutely justified, isn’t it?

What did you take from the scale of the response to the InterManager survey?
I was both surprised and delighted. And this is good, honest, real data too. It’s not only scale – that is to say the amount of data – but the breadth of data that is impressive. We can only be encouraged by those operators who have genuinely embraced safety and you can clearly see the link between a top-driven, unquestionable safety culture and a low frequency of accidents and incidents – not only with Enclosed Space, but across all operations. But the survey indicates not everyone is like this and that the problems often start in the office. There needs to be a better understanding ashore and better communications with the ship’s personnel. If you don’t understand what you are asking people to do and appreciate the resources they need to do it, then someone is going to get hurt. That points to better training being needed ashore.

Reporting of incidents is better now (which may affect the historical statistics), but do you get a sense of whether seafarers have a better understanding of Enclosed Space hazards today?
I disagree that accident and incident reporting is ‘better’ nowadays. Yes, many companies have made provision for ‘reporting’ and ‘feedback’, but not all of them act properly on what they are told. Our survey indicates they sometimes pay lip service to the system, do not analyse incidents properly and certainly do not adjust policies to make the operating environment safer. Personally, I picked up on the fact that too often, the analysis is still looking for an individual to blame. I also do not see the industry sharing data – flag States, P&I clubs, especially companies – they all have records, but nobody is sharing the data. It’s ‘commercially sensitive’ and potentially ‘reputation damaging’, but in the meantime, seafarers are still dying.

Seafarers pointed to ‘procedures’ as being the biggest contributor to Enclosed Space Entry incidents. If procedures are that badly written, where do both the responsibility and the necessary knowledge for correcting them lie?
‘Procedures’ is an easy buzz-word to use. Having a procedure in a manual is one thing and that of course ‘gets the mark’ in the audit. But how has that procedure been drawn up in the first place? Who was involved? Is it actually fit for purpose on the ship? Are those ashore listening to the people on the ship? Those that have to implement and apply the procedure? Too many companies buy their procedures ‘off the shelf’ and do not verify that they are actually suitable. How many of them confirm that their commercial policies allow their safety policies to function properly? How many of them consult the seafarers before dumping procedures on them? There’s a lot of questions, I know, but the crews have a right to the answers. We are all involved in safety, but ship operators and managers play a critical part in creating effective processes in the first place and that I guess is where InterManager fits in.

We still see highly trained, competent seafarers dying in Enclosed Spaces, particularly in so called ‘rush of blood to the head’ incidents. This is often argued to be a behavioural, rather than procedural issue. How do we address this?
I react to questions like this, to be honest. I know what you are saying, but we are immediately looking at the individual again – why did that seafarer go down into that Enclosed Space when he had been trained and should have known better? The emphasis is wrong. We should be asking ‘what were the circumstances that caused the seafarer to behave in that way?’ The InterManager survey has produced clear evidence of pressure – time pressure, threats and bullying, lack of proper resources. These things all have a negative impact on behaviour. Of course, it takes the root cause much further back in the management process, but so what? This needs to be said and backed up with statistics. Mind, I am not saying everyone is like this – there are some very well run ships and good, safety-conscious companies – but these things do inevitably come onto the table when there are serious incidents. It’s just they rarely figure behind the development of any solution.

How can Enclosed Space Entry training be made more effective?
Is training for seafarers really the solution? More training? On the ships? Our seafarers already do a hell of a lot of training, including nowadays Enclosed Space rescue drills. Look – seafarers are not dying in Enclosed Spaces because they are not trained. We need to shift the paradigm ashore. Those in the office – both commercial and technical departments – need to understand the implications of what they ask the people on the ships to do. They need to understand what is possible, what is legal, what is practical. They need to involve seafarers in their decisions and they need to involve them in their policy making.

Do you think that the seafarers were right in proposing a need for ‘shore training’ in the survey?
I thought this was a great observation. Yes, do the Crewing Manager, the Chartering Agent, the Superintendent even, understand what is involved with Enclosed Space Entry? When that message goes out ‘have a full set of wall-wash results back to me by 0700 tomorrow’, do they really understand what they are asking for? And, referring back to an earlier answer, when something goes wrong and someone gets hurt, or even killed, it all seems to focus on the ship and the people on board. There are an awful lot of questions that could be asked of those ashore, questions that should be asked.

Please tell us more about ‘phase 2’ of the InterManager project.
We are now identifying all the stakeholders in Enclosed Space Entry. Based on the data in the InterManager survey, we will invite change in approach and in attitude where applicable. In particular, it has come as a big surprise to many organisations to be drawn into this discussion. They did not consider themselves stakeholders and this has been the first big success of our campaign. Making them realise they too have responsibilities to act and to act now. We are sharing our data and will move towards a solution through applying it effectively back into the way we run our ships, hopefully with the ‘buy-in’ of all those stakeholders. And of course, to better protect our seafarers.
Source: Seagull Maritime AS

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