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Saturday, November 14, 2009

What standards do you accept in relation to safety?

I was lucky enough to be able to take some time out in Cairns this month, which is located in Tropical far North Queensland in Australia. (For non Aussies) Cairns is a base for a fleet of large boats that take people out to the Great Barrier Reef every day. I gotta say, if you get a chance to do this it is really worthwhile.

So what has this got to do with Safety?

I dont spend a lot of time around boats so it was interesting to me to watch the practices of the crew which do everything from run the boat through to serving the passengers. While standing on a large floating platform that had hand rails all round, I watched a crew member climb over the hand rail, stand on the side of the pontoon and time his jump onto another boat that was tied up but pitching badly. He then ran to the nearest handrail climbed rapidly up a verticle ladder, while the whole time the boat was pitching all over the place. A minute later he did exactly the same in reverse. Now I'm sure he had done this many times before, but the margin for error was enormous. If he had slipped while jumping he could very easily been squashed between two boats, or bashed his head on the side of the boat. Being a manager who has safety embedded in my brain, I should have questioned what he was doing, but been complacent in an environment I was not used to, I said nothing. ( Not so good)

Would we accept this behavior in industry? This sort of behavior at my work place would have started a safety inquisition, final warnings given and communication to the world. In hindsight I believe when this sort of behavior is accepted in any workplace, it is only time until the big disaster occurs. They really aren't looking after their own.

On the other hand the processes for ensuring all customers are accounted for at the end of the day are exceptional. All passengers sign on when boarding, and countersign when they enter the boat for the return journey. After that two crew members do an independent count to ensure all are on-board. What a great system, so why do they look after their customers so well?

For those Aussies, you may remember a few years back two Americans were left behind on a reef excursion and never found again.

It shouldn't take a disaster to ensure excellent safety system are in place. A culture of safety must be embedded in organisations.

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