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Improving Maritime Safety: Top 10 HSEQ Best Practices

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“​An organization with a ‘safety culture’ is one that gives appropriate priority to safety and realises that safety has to be managed like other areas of the business.” 

– International Maritime Organisation 

Shipping makes up around 90% of world trade. However, its huge impact on the global economy is coupled with danger to life and property. Seafarers often face challenging and unsafe conditions leading to accidents and incidents onboard. Protection of the marine environment is also of global concern.  

With a world fleet covering 150 nations and manned by over a million seafarers, it’s no surprise that improving maritime safety and quality is a top priority for shipping companies, national governments and international bodies.  


Benefits of Shipping Safety Culture for Ship Owners and Managers


Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty’s (AGCS) Safety and Shipping Review 2022 notes 3,000 shipping incidents occurring in 2021, up year-on-year. Machinery damage, collisions and fire/explosions are the top three causes.  

What is the impact to shipping companies and managers?  

There is an expensive price to pay – not least in insurance – for preventable safety issues.  

Ships are incredibly high value assets; it can cost over US$200 million to build large, hi-tech vessels. Machinery damage costs both time and money. In addition, crew are the lifeblood of shipping. Seafarers are essential workers, and their health and safety are crucial to prevent accidents and handle emergencies.   

By effectively managing safety and quality, ship owners and managers can protect crew from injury, prevent costly damage, prevent repair work stoppage, and even lower the risk profile for vessels, all while following international regulations.  


Top 10 HSEQ Best Practices for Maritime Safety


Here are 10 HSEQ best practices to help ship owners and managers improve maritime safety: 


1. Track Regulatory Compliance

It’s a must to comply with international regulations to ensure safety at sea and proper quality management. Here are the main codes addressing ship, crew and marine protection: 

  • International Safety Management Code (ISM Code) 
  • International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) Code 
  • Tanker Management and Self-Assessment programme (TMSA) 
  • The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, 1973 (MARPOL) 
  • International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers, 1978 (STCW) 
  • Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 (MLC) 
  • Code of safe working practices for merchant seafarers (COSWP) 
  • International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, 1974 (SOLAS) 

But how would you know if you are compliant with international standards? It helps if your ship management system’s technical features are built solely for technical asset managers to comply with industry standards and regulations (as is the case for BASSnet). However, properly tracking compliance is always the best solution.  

It’s especially beneficial to have a bird’s eye view by collecting fleet-wide data across vessels through end-to-end analytics and reporting. Detailed and streamlined analytics will enable ship staff to flag up non-compliance promptly, quickly plug gaps and weaknesses in the safety process flow, and properly report compliance to relevant authorities. 

Digital ERP systems such as BASSnet can centrally gather data on ship maintenance and safety across various modules. The system also enables ship owners and managers to monitor and track safety statistics via powerful analytics and business intelligence, while optimising shipping operations to save costs. Learn more


2. Systematic documentation of audits, inspections and risk assessments


Risk assessments, audits and inspections enable ship owners and ship managers to keep vessels in good condition and prevent unexpected accidents/incidents.  

But mere documentation is not enough.  

Systematic, detailed and compliant recording and reporting of audits, inspections and risk assessments is key to effective HSEQ management.  

Reports must be thorough and make it easy to spot issues quickly. Here too, digital systems (such as BASSnet SAFIR (Safety & Improvement Reporting)) provide the assurance of efficient reporting and analysis of events. Users can track important information, record data digitally and view comprehensive reports in user-friendly formats. If you choose the right safety management system, you also gain suggestions to improve fleet operations.  

Maritime ERP software such as BASSnet also connects users across platforms, from desktop to tablet to mobile phone, so that safety documentation is always at your fingertips. Using a mobile app (such as BASSnet’s Safety & Quality app)  for site audits, inspections and findings also greatly increases efficiency and reporting speed, while reducing errors from paper reporting.  


3. Ensuring Crew Safety & Health


#Seafarersarekeyworkers. The crew change crisis resulting from COVID-19 highlighted more than ever the importance of ensuring crew safety and health. Good crew health not only prevents injuries but benefits shipping companies’ bottom line. Fit and focused crew means uninterrupted productivity while fatigued crew can lead to costly million-dollar accidents. 

What are best practices for crew safety and health? Ship managers must be able to efficiently: 

As a full service ERP system, BASSnet’s Crewing module covers the monitoring and protection of crew welfare in a browser-based system, with a handy Crew Portal app for crew self service on personal information, training and certifications. BASSnet also efficiently tracks fleet data on work and rest hours, which is crucial to keep crew healthy. 


4. Using Best-in-Class Fleet Management Software


The AGCS Safety Shipping Review 2022 reports that safety has improved onboard vessels in 2021. One of the factors driving improvement is the advance in technology. Going digital with a best-in-class ship safety management system can help ship owners, managers and seafarers to: 

  • increase efficiency and productivity 
  • enjoy time-saving automation  
  • use analytics to strengthen processes  
  • engage in efficient information gathering 
  • easily track compliance with best practices and predictive tools 
  • optimise operations and reduce operating costs. 

Integrated, end-to-end systems such as the BASSnet suite are the best choice for interconnected HSEQ modules to cover all safety and quality needs from safety and improvement reporting to preventive maintenance features and environmental management. It’s also best to use multi-platform software for ‘on-the-go’ access whether you’re on a desktop PC or mobile phone.  


5. Reducing marine pollution 

The environmental impact of marine pollution contributes to climate change, which in turn can cause extreme weather affecting vessels. It’s in the maritime industry’s interest to reduce marine pollution.  

The IMO, in cooperation with other international bodies, has developed or adopted regulations and guidelines to care for the marine environment. Of note is MARPOL, as well as regulations on the creation and management of an inventory of hazardous materials. You can learn more about the IMO’s role in protecting the world’s oceans here. 

Now, here are best practices to protect the marine environment:  

  • Compliance with environmental regulations such as MARPOL, EU MRV, IMO DCS, UK MRV, and CII. 
  • Proper creation and maintenance of an Inventory of Hazardous Materials  
  • Reduction of emissions and pollutants  
  • Transition to low carbon fuels 
  • Effectively tracking and reporting environmental emissions at sea. (Digital software such as BASSnet’s Environmental solutions can help.) 


6. Promoting a safety reporting culture 

“Creating a safety culture has to come from the top down and be taken seriously at every level, from CEO to cadet.” 

– Theresa Crossley, CEO of International Maritime Rescue Federation (Inmarsat Maritime’s The Future of Maritime Safety Report 2022) 

How does your crew think about safety? Will they remain silent in the face of a problem or take active steps to keep their shipmates safe?  

The answer to these questions can mean the difference between a strong safety reporting culture and a weak one. How can you know if you’ve missed the mark? Have a look at these indications: 

  • an increase in accidents, incidents or near misses 
  • regular failure of equipment or machinery  
  • lack of reporting on accidents, incidents and lessons learnt 
  • lack of crew situational awareness 
  • lack of crew knowledge or understanding of maritime safety standards. 

A safety reporting culture cannot be inculcated without intentional safety awareness campaigns and training. All crew and office staff must participate in regular safety meetings and sharing of lessons learnt fleet-wide. Regularly engage on safety measures, standards and tips for continuous improvement that’s the hallmark of a good safety reporting culture.  


7. Continuous training as pre-requisite for crew competency 

Human error is an unfortunate cause of preventable maritime accidents. The IMO has in fact directly linked shipping safety to seafarer training, as governed by the STCW Convention and Code 

Quality training can equip seafarers with safety knowledge, improve attitudes towards safety, and shape behaviour to prevent accidents and better handle emergencies.  

Basic Training (BT) is already mandatory for seafarers to serve onboard ships. However, the future of training is also likely to hinge on a holistic approach to equip seafarers with both hard skills and soft skills for better situational awareness, leadership, team work and communication.  

In addition, training in technology and ship management software used onboard (such as BASSnet’s interactive and customised training) is vital to avoid errors and optimise efficiency. 



8. Teamwork and safety awareness campaigns 

Working well together can mean the difference between life and death onboard. A positive safety culture encourages crew to stay knowledgeable about safety, learn from each other and help each other to stay safe. Yet, safety culture onboard can often be individualistic and, sadly, outdated. 

The solution is to run safety awareness campaigns with regularity so that crew are always up-to-date on latest safety best practices, and aware of the need to work together safely.  

Dr Grahaeme Henderson OBE, the Chair of Together in Safety highlights the vital role leadership plays in the success of safety initiatives in Inmarsat Maritime’s ‘The Future of Maritime Safety Report 2022’:  

“It is about understanding your safety risks and identifying your major incident types, then using the good practices that are already available to stop these preventable safety incidents from recurring.” 


9. Good housekeeping and safe working practices 

The 7 most common accident types on a deck are: 

  • slips and falls 
  • improper manual lifting causing injuries 
  • compressed air accidents 
  • exposure to chemicals 
  • electrical accidents 
  • crane and lifting gear accidents 
  • deck tools and machinery accidents. 

These accidents can cause life-changing injuries and even lead to loss of life. However, many unsafe conditions leading to these accidents can be proactively managed by simply practicing good housekeeping and safe working practices.  

These include maintaining cleanliness, performing accident analysis to avoid recurrence, promoting safety and situational awareness on the part of the crew, the proper use of protective equipment, care during first aid, hazard precautions, use of the right tools for the rights tasks, and proper training and certification. 

Also, use maritime software (such as the BASSnet BI Dashboard) to identify the most common accident types and root causes in your fleet. 


10. Risk assessment monitoring and appraisal 

As we all know, prevention is better than cure. The best way to prevent the chances of accidents and incidents is with regular risk assessment monitoring and appraisal.  

The ISM Code (International Safety Management Code) states that “Safety management objectives of the company should…establish safeguards against all identified risks.” 

It’s therefore essential to identify key vessel operations and potential hazards associated with execution of operational tasks. It’s also necessary to regularly perform risk assessments and appraisals to keep your vessel and crew safe and in top condition.  

Here too, digitalisation can be an asset. Maritime software such as BASSnet Risk Management efficiently enables users to define, assess and manage operational risks to improve vessels’ safety, security, performance and reputation.  



“It is vital that shipping puts safety at the core of its operations and uses every solution available to prevent incidents and save lives.” 

– Inmarsat Maritime’s ‘The Future of Maritime Safety Report 2022’ 

There are ultimately three pillars of maritime safety guaranteed to improve safety at sea while making good business sense: 

  • keeping crew healthy and in a safe environment 
  • ensuring ships are in top condition and perform well; and  
  • ensuring compliance with international safety standards.  

Ship owners and managers need only use HSEQ best practices to inculcate a strong safety culture onboard, prevent accidents/incidents before they happen, and leverage the latest technology and digital fleet management systems to improve maritime safety and quality. 

Learn more about BASSnet’s Safety, Technical and Environmental solutions. 

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