This article first appeared in Maritime Review Africa
Maritime Review asked our CEO Leon Mouton a few questions and here are his answers:
Q. Do you feel there is enough of an emphasis on training for better safety in the seagoing sectors in Africa and what can be done to improve the situation?
A. There is enough of an emphasis on safety training from a legislative point of view. Within companies, however, there seems to be a real gap when it comes to the employee and their understanding the importance of it (safety training). They have not embraced the safety culture and view safety training courses as something they have to do it and, therefore, do not want to be there. There needs to be more emphasis on changing the mindset towards this because, at the end of the day, this is what keeps them alive and gets them home to their families. They only show up for training in order to keep their job. They need to understand that a very important component of competency is attitude and this needs to change towards safety.
Q. Do you feel that the standard of training offered by African service providers is consistent with international standards?
A. In most cases yes. There are some very good, reputable training organisations in South Africa and What aspects of training for safety at sea do you feel are being overlooked in Africa? in other countries on the continent. All of them are aligned and a number of them are from countries on the White List. Where there are agreements in place to deliver training in other countries, they often undergo additional international audits to ensure compliance. These audits show the challenges, shortfalls or improvements necessary and they are implemented to ensure that standards are maintained. This means that they are on par and where they should be in terms of standards.
Q. What aspects of training for safety at sea do you feel are being overlooked in Africa?
A. There is far too much emphasis on theoretical training. There needs to be a greater practical component to training. Most current courses are short in duration and content heavy. Practical training and repetition would be far more beneficial to the learners and aid their retention of information. An idea would be to make the theoretical component available through an online platform to complete beforehand, along with a written assessment. On arrival at the training centre, they would be able to revise the most important points and participate in all the practical activities. More that 85 percent of the learners that we work with are kinaesthetic learners and learn by doing. Yet we expect them to sit in a classroom for days and learn through auditory means as well as visually with books and paperwork. The system is wrong and is not aimed at meeting the needs of the clients.
Q. Do you feel that minimum training standards are sufficient to provide adequate safety at sea?
A. This needs to be looked at in a couple of ways. Firstly, minimum safety training standards are sufficient for what they are intended for: to protect the individual by providing training so that they can operate equipment safely and keep themselves safe. The real question, however is: is this sufficient for the modern seafarer? And one also has to consider the emotional as well as attitudinal safety of the individuals. It is here that I don’t think that the minimum safety standards are up to par because this is a major shortfall. Today it is much more difficult to be a seafarer than it was previously in relation to technological advances, economic climate and personal circumstances. Emotional safety relates to your emotional state and how you deal with what might be going on within the workplace or at home. It relates to your coping mechanisms to deal with the hours of work, lack of sleep, anxiety, having to work with difficult people, feeling isolated, and more. Attitudinal safety revolves around changing your mindset towards the importance of keeping safe. Young people in particular often learn the hard way by seeing on-the-job what can happen and this can then affect them psychologically. The minimum standards around qualifications is a whole other level of discussion though.
Q. Given the impact of human error in safety at sea – what kind of impact can training have on this?
A. A challenge in our society today is that at school it is now acceptable to only know 30 percent of material in order to pass. The reality of this is that we lose the skill within our seafarers to critically evaluate the task at hand. The pass requirements is 50 percent in most cases for safety training today. While, I’m not saying that it needs to be increased, my comment comes back to the minimum training standards. I am a firm believer in continuous improvement. If 50 percent is the pass mark, then we need to promote a change in attitude so that learners leave the course and continue to improve on what they know in order to get better and improve skills. I would like to see seafarers participate in training more often to improve their knowledge and skills above and beyond the mandatory five-year refreshers. This should be at no cost to them, but rather something that is supported by the employer and made available to them with tools such as elearning. The more they know, the less human error there will be. I believe that continuous training support would be the greatest contributor to a reduction in human error.