Wilhelmsen insights

The importance of safety standards and how to commit to a secure work environment

As part of our ESG Spotlight Series, Jodie Reibel, Vice President Governance & Sustainability, discusses safety and the agency business and why building a safety culture is now a business essential.

Wilhelmsen insights |
Jodie Reibel, Vice President Governance & Sustainability, Port Services

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Why are safety standards so important for the agency business? 

In simple terms, a safety culture is critical for ship agents to perform their work effectively in today’s maritime industry. The agency business is inherently a people business and people are therefore our most important asset. As such, it is essential to create a safe working environment for agents by ensuring, they not only have the appropriate protective equipment, but they are able to identify risks and know how to act upon them and most importantly know they have the support to stop work if they feel unsafe.

Our customers view us as an extension of their operations and, accordingly, demand the highest safety standards. They will seek to use an agent they can trust and avoid those that will give a poor reflection of their brand, which can be detrimental to their reputation. Significant importance is also attached to these factors in contract and tender negotiations.

How are our agents and customers typically at risk during daily operations?

While agents’ work is mainly performed in the office, they are confronted with a variety of risks that change each time they attend a vessel, or port location.

For example, our boarding agents attend more than 75,000 vessels annually and carry out boarding via launches to gain access to vessels. These are all identified by the industry as high-risk areas of work.

Unlike an office setting where risks can be managed with relative ease, our agents are exposed to environments over which we have little or no control. Their working environment is constantly changing due to shifting weather and tidal conditions, crew changes, variations in standards, diverse vessel layouts and different port facilities. All these factors combined add up to high risk both for our employees and customers.

How would you sum up Port Services' commitment to safety at Wilhelmsen and why is it so important to promote safety within the organization and in the market?

Wilhelmsen’s longstanding vision is: ‘Shaping the maritime industry’. This is equally applicable to the vision of Port Services in shaping the port experience of tomorrow and raising safety standards.

Our commitment is summarised by the phrase: ‘Your Safety, Our Priority’. This is the watchword for all stakeholders in the industry - from management to employees, and from us to our customers and suppliers.

Collectively, we have a great opportunity to change the safety culture within our sphere of activity by improving safety standards at the local port level and among the players with which we interact. As an essential partner in the supply chain, we can add value to our customers’ operations by ensuring that suppliers deliver services in a safe manner. Working with suppliers makes it possible for us to raise the level of safety in the maritime industry.

Can you identify concrete initiatives being taken by Wilhelmsen Port Services to ensure safety in our day-to-day activities?

Our flagship risk assessment safety program, TAKE 5, is intended to ensure that all our employees - from port agent to top management - can identify potential hazards when performing associated tasks and determine preventive control measures before starting any job.

Launched in 2017, the TAKE 5 program entails five straightforward steps to raise safety awareness. It is an informal pre-task risk assessment to remind us of the simple things we tend to forget. The purpose of the program is to prompt us to stop and take a moment to assess the situation and our immediate working environment.

At the most basic level, TAKE 5 makes us ask the question: “Is it safe for me to work?” Our Stop-Work Authority empowers every Port Services employee to halt work immediately if the risk assessment cannot be completed.

In addition, the program triggers concrete actions related to an unsafe working environment. Such control measures may include requesting crew to clean up spilled oil residue to avoid ‘slip-and-trip’ incidents or issuing a request for gangways to be secured at a 45-degree angle. While these may seem minor steps, the sum of many such incremental measures ultimately contributes to our employees’ safety.

How has TAKE 5 evolved and what future enhancements are planned to further safeguard the working environment for agents?

In 2019, the program was launched as a mobile phone application, which allows our agents to perform the assessment on the go. Our ESG team keeps track of the type of control measures that are being implemented and this has resulted in an impressive statistic: more than 8000 such measures have been recorded since the launch of the application.

However, our team is going one step further to ensure we constantly improve our safety standards. Based on frequent entries derived from the TAKE 5 mobile application, we are identifying new risk areas and providing targeted training to enable all employees to operate safely within these areas.

Learn more about our approach to ESG