Commander’s Perspective: Safety!

MSC Team,

I am amazed at the quality of people and level of talent at Military Sealift Command. On any given day, we have about 115 ships at sea, operating in every time zone around the world.  MSC ships support missions as diverse as surveying the ocean floor, delivering fuel and munitions to combatant ships, to operating platforms that are testing our Nation’s most advanced weapon systems.  The key ingredient that makes us successful is our people.  The men and women who make up our workforce, both ashore and afloat, are the best in the world.

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As we close out one year and prepare to lay our course for the upcoming New Year, there is one area that requires everyone’s focus. That area is safety.

MSC experienced an uptick in mishaps. As a result, we initiated a command-wide safety review. The safety review looked at 23 mishaps that occurred over a 30-month period from 2013 to 2015.  These mishaps were serious events and included ship collisions, ship groundings, dropped ordnance, and allisions with fixed objects.  While these events did not result in injury to personnel, these events damaged government assets, created enormous expenses, reduced our readiness posture, and damaged our reputation.  We can, and we must, do better both individually and as a Command.

Human factors, including behavior and decision-making, played a significant role in the root causes of these mishaps. This is the area that everyone must focus on and “take for action.”  Here’s what you can do to improve our safety culture:

1. Conduct Operational Risk Management analysis (ORM) prior to operational evolutions.

2. Follow MSC’s Safety Management System (SMS).

3. Fully understand your job, complete all required training and use this training and the experience of your supervisors in your actions.

4. Focus on the task at hand, eliminate personal and professional distractions at work.

5. Use common sense.  If it does not feel safe, don’t do it.  Stop and re-assess before continuing.

In addition to requiring individual focus I directed process and organizational changes that will also improve our safety culture.

First, we will reenergize key training and ship support programs, including Afloat Training Team and Bridge Resource Management Training. Additionally we will reinstitute our annual Ship Safety Assist Visit Program.

Second, I directed MSC to create a more robust Operational Risk Management Program. This Program will introduce new requirements to our current ORM SMS procedure, which will be focused on Command expectations for the fleet.  We will produce an ORM training video to reinforce the implementation of ORM, as well as highlight the value that ORM provides.  This video will also provide training in how to use and effectively execute ORM.

Third, our Reduced Operating Status vessels are a key component of our fleet. We must manage this fleet in a way that does not diminish preparedness or contribute to the atrophy of equipment and skills.  We will explore additional avenues to test these platforms and increase operational readiness of our ROS fleet.

Fourth, our Safety Management System (SMS) has provided an effective standard for the safe management and operation of our ships. However, our SMS is only as good as the utilization of the system.  With that in mind, our Document Control Group will continue to take updates from our fleet, and strive for frequent and responsive exchanges between headquarters and our fleet so that our system remains current and adaptive.

Finally, our Headquarters Safety Office must be a focal point for governing our safety-related policies and communications with our fleet. This office requires manning and resources to stay actively engaged with our fleet in all aspects of safety and I will ensure that happens.

To close, safety is an “all-hands” evolution. Safety is a mindset and safety must be part of our culture, every day and in everything we do.  Everyone has a role in improving Military Sealift Command’s safety posture.  Both individual and Command ownership of safety challenges is absolutely vital.  Everyone has a voice in ensuring MSC ships are operating in the safest way possible.  You are empowered to stop an unsafe condition.

I thank you for your continued focus on improving our safety posture at MSC. Safety is not your problem, safety is not my problem; safety is OUR challenge collectively.  We must make Operational Safety a core value; it must permeate at every level of MSC activity, from deck plate to staff headquarters and all levels in between.

By working together, we can and will reduce the frequency and severity of safety mishaps.

Rear Adm. T. K. Shannon, USN

Commander, Military Sealift Command

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