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Marine safety systems, safety layers and safety cultures - Subscriber Access Only

By BCShippingNews 15 March 2017

Mahatma Gandhi is credited with a brilliantly snappy remark he made in 1930 whilst disembarking in Southampton. Still on the gangway, he was overwhelmed by a pool of journalists and one of them asked, “Mr. Gandhi, what do you think of democracy in the western world?” Mr. Gandhi said, “That would be a good idea.”

There is no biographical evidence of this occurrence but when I was recently asked what I thought about our world-class marine safety system, the same acerbic answer came to my mind: That would be a good idea!

And who can argue with that?

But it made me also wonder how to describe a marine safety system in the first place and then how to possibly substantiate the claim of being world-class.

A bit of research leads to the definition of “system” as a set of interrelated components that are organized to form a collective unity designed to achieve a common objective; in the case at hand: marine safety. This definition stresses the effective interactions between the system components within the operational environment. The underlying principle is one of synergy: the whole becomes more than the sum of its parts. The well-known “Swiss Cheese” model of accident causation illustrates the system components as individual slices of Swiss cheese, each of which is riddled with the distinctive holes of this nutritious food, the holes indicating the imperfections of each component.

It is easy to picture the various slices as standing safety layers that surround marine operations. Jointly, they form the components of a comprehensive marine safety system with layers such as international rules and regulations, technology, certification, port state control, vessel traffic services, navigational aids, pilotage, escort tugs and so forth. An attempt to express the sum of these components mathematically yields:

Equation 1: (see above graphic)