Maritime industry puts the H in HSE during COVID-19 pandemic
Maritime Industry Dialogue Series report back
SOUTH AFRICA: Last week’s Maritime Industry Dialogue session may have highlighted the challenges currently being faced by the maritime sectors, but it also emphasised how companies are implementing effective health and safety protocols within workplaces as diverse as vessels and shipyards.
Webinar attendees received the full benefit of the experience of health and safety (HSE) experts from AMSOL, Bourbon and Damen Shipyards Cape Town who joined the panel to delve into how the HSE space has evolved during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since the onset of the crisis, HSE professionals have had to source, digest and assimilate a vast amount of information into their workplaces within very short timeframes.
“There is obviously an additional workload that comes with COVID-19, but as HSE professionals we do have an extensive toolbox to fall back on,” confirmed Terry Spreeth, SHEQ & Compliance Executive at AMSOL.
Ann Till, Head of Operational Excellence/Group COVID-19 Coordination Officer at Bourbon, agrees and outlined a number of the resources and organisations that she has tapped into including the International Maritime Health Association.
“There is a wealth of information tailored for the maritime industry and while we are not medical professionals, it has been useful to receive guidance from our partners as well as available information papers,” says Till who admits that there is currently a heavy work load for HSE individuals.
Hermoine Manual, QC manager at Damen Shipyards Cape Town described how simple and cost-effective protocols have transformed the company’s operations in the Port of Cape Town. During the first week or two of returning to work, she confirms that the decision to operate at a reduced capacity of about 25 percent impacted on the company’s ability to implement a number of these practices.
“This provided us with the opportunity to see how we could streamline and optimise the workers in the yard and how staff could be divided within the different workspaces,” she said adding that the size of the vessel that they are currently working on under Project Biro did allow for the social distancing.
She noted, however, that planning of production activities has necessarily become a lot more detailed and a lot more stringent during these times.
Putting the H in HSE
Without exception all of the panellists agreed that COVID-19 era has resulted in a renewed focus on the “health” aspect of health and safety.
“There is certainly a better appreciation of the HSE function within the workspace,” comments Manuel who explains that her team has become the go-to place for employees with any concerns or questions about COVID-19. “There has been a really big drive to emphasise the support we can lend to the employees and to show them that their health is a number one priority,” she added.
Spreeth echoed Manuel’s observations about the role of HSE and noted that a similar evolution at AMSOL where the focus was on looking after the staff and showing that they cared about their well-being not only at work, but within their communities.
“HSE has been taken out of the cupboard and is being seen as integral to the entire company,” says Till.
It has also been a time where workplaces have been redefined as some members of staff are being encouraged to work from home while others return to company premises. A certain disconnect can creep into teams during these times, and the panellists confirmed that the conversations around mental health and well-being as well as resilience are now part of the job description of the HSE professional.
A long-term impact
Although the future remains unclear in terms of how COVID-19 will play out, the pandemic has unequivocally thrust health and safety into the spotlight and helped address any complacency within the maritime sectors.
Over and above the very noticeable shift amongst staff to adhere even more stringently to safety protocols, all of the contributors to the panel agreed that there were some changes that they hoped would remain in place and continue to improve health and safety in the longer term both at sea and ashore.
“We have seen a decrease in safety-related incidents as a result of increased awareness amongst staff and employees and we see that at our subcontractors who we visit too. That heightened level of awareness of safe working procedures will help sustain a safety culture in the workplace,” says Manuel who hopes to maintain some of the protocols that have impacted positively on operational planning, highlighting specifically the benefits of a stricter visitor regime.
For Till, the renewed focus on issues relating to seafarer fatigue, access to internet and overall seafarer welfare, needs to ensure a future where these concerns are actually tackled. “COVID-19 has been useful in highlighting the effects of fatigue of crewmembers at sea,” she said adding that crew contract lengths need to be addressed as part of a future that she hopes will continue to focus on the human factor.
“There has also been a conversation about the need to improve internet and communication on board during this time. If we could see increased crew connectivity on vessels coming out of this, that would be a great bonus,” she added.
Noting the major disruption within the maritime transport space caused by COVID-19, Till emphasises the need to maintain the elevated awareness of HSE throughout the industry.
Collaboration for improved health and safety
Working within a scenario where new information is constantly being made available about the disease, all three panellists emphasised the need to collaborate and offered their experience to those that may be struggling to address workplace challenges within the COVID-19 scenario.
“It has been a learning curve for us all,” admitted Manual who added that companies with dedicated HSE functions had an advantage in reacting more quickly to the evolving situation. “We have streamlined ourselves a lot quicker than some of our smaller counterparts, but because this is something that is affecting all of us, we are offering advice and sharing lessons with others,” she said encouraging stakeholders to work together.
Spreeth echoed her sentiments and emphasised the need to put the basics in place. “It is not that complicated to put the basics in place. Yes, it may cost more, but people’s lives are at stake,” she said.
For Till, the answers are available to everyone that is willing to engage. “Look at what other companies and people are doing. Sometimes it can be the simplest of things that can make a big difference. Everyone is learning as we go along,” she said.
The Maritime Industry Dialogue sessions were initiated through a sponsorship by AMSOL and are hosted by Maritime Review Africa. The initial six sessions have recently been renewed for a further six sessions that will tackle more topical conversations of relevance to maritime stakeholders at this time.
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To watch the full replay of the HSE webinar (Session 5 of the Maritime Industry Dialogue) click HERE. Other topics discussed by the speakers include crew changes, staff moral, vessel and workplace sanitation and more.