By Capt. Chandran Mahalinggam, Senior HSSEQ Superintendent
Shipping is one of the most critical and high-risk industries. Safety onboard is influenced by a trust. It can be a missing link in ensuring safety. Trust amongst seafarers is one of the keys to maintaining safety in the maritime industry.
In this time of the pandemic, most industries faced gloomy days but not the maritime industry. The busier it is, the more challenges and risks are encountered by seafarers. To work at a high-intensity level, trust among peers and colleagues is of the utmost importance.
Though the importance of leadership and cultural background are vital in shaping seafarers’ safety attitudes and behaviours, trust among the crew members must not be neglected.
First, shipping is a multicultural business. National culture is one of the critical factors affecting seafarers’ safety behaviours regarding trust. It sets various dimensions of culture with different levels of influence on safety behaviours and safety attitudes. Seafarers’ perceptions of transformational leadership are predictive of safety behaviours when trust is built.
Interpersonal trust from managers to employees and among seafarers influences the safety-related organisation. Trust among colleagues and managers is the first step in improving safety, thus, reduce human errors. The physical distance between seafarers and management, human behaviour, requirement and competency levels, frequent reorganization of the crew, and multiculturalism can be considered the main obstacles to trust within the shipping industry.
Respondents may have been reluctant to report their safety behaviours because of trust issues, potential personal repercussions, and any interests against the company. Trust and transparency are important items to tackle within the management. Because of the high-risk environment, this level of trust and transparency is expected to be relatively high.
Most of the global fleet has multicultural crews. Team play is built on trust. Most of the time, the absence of trust exists due to a lack of transparency, different cultural backgrounds, and fear of conflict. Healthy interaction is a process towards strong and trusting relationships. However, situations arise when an individual is unable to engage in a healthy debate. A lack of such debate leads to a lack of commitment. Thus, people will not commit to decisions which they personally may disagree with them, while at the same time, they refrain from disclosing their own feelings.
Finally, failure to be accountable leads to inattention to results, where employees prioritize their individual goals rather than the team’s goals. Take the example of an organisation leader who says that safety is his top priority, while in reality, he encourages the employees to cut corners. As this is gradually discovered by employees, a general distrust, conflicts, and lack of coordination and cooperation may well arise.
Trust-building is normally a slow process. Frequent interactions within different nationalities and cultural backgrounds may lead people to understand better each other’s needs and expectations, encouraging valuable contributions. Trust and care about each other contribute to trust-building. Communicating in a common language is also important in promoting cognitive trust.
Communication and cooperation are also important for maritime safety. Most of the accidents in the shipping industry happen due to human errors.
It can be due to incorrect decisions, improper or lack of action. Typical improper or lack of action is due to no coordination and not seeking advice. Lack of knowledge sharing and not seeking advice may be seen as minor errors, but minor errors may lead to serious casualties. Interpersonal trust is considered essential in the sharing of knowledge in a reciprocal way.
The company managers are the most significant predictive factor for promoting a safety culture that induces safe behaviours. Sea staff seminars can be one of the highlight sessions which discuss seafarer concerns and challenges within the industry. A robust management system that highlights every transparency angle, such as a non-retaliation policy, will not be the immediate solution. Managers’ soft skill approach – trust, belief, and concern about crews’ safety will be the immediate action in encouraging safe behaviours, thus contributing to increased safety onboard. Trust enhances care for the safety of employees if employees trust the management.
Crew members are more likely to share the manager’s opinion about the importance of safety. A simple example of enquiring about family wellbeing and having an effective interaction session during shipboard visits will increase trust towards the management. Trust in management has a significant impact on safety at the industry level and in organizations. Employees can report errors and near misses without fear of being blamed for them. Trust is also found to promote a safe culture.
An interpersonal trust may be the missing piece in the safety puzzle. The practical implications in acknowledgment of interpersonal trust towards safety enhance both management and employee relationships.
Remember, seafarers are the key and backbone to the maritime society. Both management and seafarers must forego their cultural differences and start trusting each other by holding hands together in striving towards excellence. Nothing is more important than seafarer safety onboard.