Everyone who is working offshore today are well aware of the safety observation programme in force, which includes Safety Observation Cards (SOC). On board some units it works better than on board others, and to have a fully functional system all employees need to participate.

Basically  the safety culture in the company and how well it is implemented decides if there will be a working SOC system on board or not, and I will tell you a true story of how you can kill the HSE spirit amongst the employees if you are not careful.

Some years ago on board an offshore vessel owned by a north european company I had a quite unusual experience connected to the SOC’s. The vessel was manned with Scandinavian officers and Brittish clients from a well knowned company within the industry. The vessel was mobilized with a number of acid tanks and other chemical tanks on back deck.

A couple of days after my joining of the vessel the safety manager from the office was on board for a meeting since the incident/accident statistic of this vessel had been non satisfactory for some time. A lot of small incidents and accidents had happened, of some also included lost time injury, and of course the company wanted to change the ongoing trend. The result of the meeting was that all on board had to be more safety minded, use the PTW correctly and also participate in the SOC programme since not so many SOC’s had been submitted from this vessel in the past. As a new employee it is for me normal to accept the challenge and do my best.

So, one day during my watch something on back deck caught my attention. The ship was alongside in port, stand-by and waiting for orders and maintenance work was ongoing. Several crew members from the client was painting on back deck without hard hats on. This might not be so severe, but if minimum PPE is hard hat, safety glasses, gloves, safety shoes and coverall, then for sure something is wrong and it is therefore also a valid safety observation.

In this situation there are persons who will grab a SOC, fill it in and then put it in the SOC box to be entered into the system, and hopefully also discussed on board. However, this is not how I do it, I will never fill in a card without taking action upon the breach observed. In my opinion you have a greater responsibility as an officer than just filling in a card, you have to take action, it is an obligation from my point of view.

Therefore, maybee one hour later when I was out on deck for a safety insection I stopped at the site where the crew were painting, was chatting with them for a while and then I informed them about the minimum PPE required whenever working on back deck. They agreed and said that they will put on their hard hats and I continued my safety inspection.

Later on when I went for lunch, I immediately felt that something was wrong, I could not say what at that time but I had a feeling that it was something connected with my observation and action. When Captain finished his lunch he told me to come to his office when I was done with mine. At that time I knew what it was all about…

When stepping into his office he told me to shut the door and take a seat, which I did. Then he told me that the client representative was seeing him, and told him that I had been out on back deck and telling “his guys” to put on hard hats and they did not like it at all, since the client representative was the one giving them allowance to work without hardhats since it was a sunny day.

I then reminded him about what the office said, that they requested all employees to participate and that they wanted us to improve, and I just took my part of it. He then told me that they had a “good working climate” on board and that they did not want to have those “conflicts”, and if it would not be enough to just write the card without telling the guys.

I have been working as HSE Advisor on board a few vessels and I am aware of the different difficulties connected with the SOC’s, of which some are directly linked to the No blame/blame culture. I told Captain about my experience and how I am used to work with the system. I also told him about my philosophy that at least all officers have to take a bigger responsibility than “just writing the card” and put it in the box. The Captain was more concerned about his relation to the client than that we had a non working SOC programme on board.

Honestly I was little upset after a while and I told him that this was the first and the last SOC he will ever get from me, since the system on board did not work anyway. After my meeting with the Captain I went down to the client representative and told him that it was not my intention to make anyone upset with my observation, and then I also told him about my philosophy of not writing any SOC if you do not take any action.

Surprisingly he agreed with what I said, and he also told med that he had been working on rigs before. At that time I was even more surprized of him letting his crew work without minimum PPE, and the overreaction from his side.

Anyway, the time went on and no more SOC’s were turned in from my side, and honestly, I do not think that anyone else did turn in any card either.

In my opinion, the Captain and the client representative had a terrible approach to the system. It does not matter what you personally think about the system, it is a part of the game and it is here to stay. It will at least not disappear until the pyramid had changed its shape to a tower!

So, to not killing the HSE spirit amongst your employees, read the rules of the game and play along!

The funny part of it is, that it took 18 years before I was called to Captains office for a private talk, and that was after writing a SOC!


If you have a similar story, please share it with us!