Louis de Wolff of CalMac Ferries talks about safely transporting 4.6m passengers a year between the Scottish mainland and its west coast islands.
Tell me a little about CalMac Ferries?
Caledonian MacBrayne (CalMac) operates passenger and vehicle ferries between the Scottish mainland and 22 of the major islands off Scotland’s west coast, including the Outer Hebrides and the Isles of Skye, Mull and Islay. We are the UK’s largest ferry operator by routes and ferries, operating 31 ferries serving 49 ports. In 2013 we carried nearly 4.6m passengers, one million cars and more than 100,000 coaches and commercial vehicles.
As well as people, we carry large amounts of goods and cargo, and are sometimes called upon to evacuate islanders for emergency medical treatment where helicopter transfer is unsuitable. For some islands we are a lifeline service in terms of supplies and transport. We employ around 1,400 people and at our summer peak operate 475 sailings, performing 950 mooring and unmooring operations, every day.
What does your role entail?
I lead CalMac’s group-wide safety, environment and security team, and my responsibilities include health and safety on the ferries and at the ports we operate. The team includes two managers overseeing safety at ports and three providing oversight of vessel safety. An employee on each ferry – often the chief officer – has responsibility for both nautical and general health and safety. Each ferry and port has its own safety committee that monitors, discusses and reports to the safety team on issues, concerns and progress.
Our health and safety system includes maintenance and training, informal visits, internal audits and incident and performance reporting. The team and I conduct over 100 internal, full-day safety audits a year on the vessels, ports, crews and management regimes, assuring the effective maintenance of safety equipment, life-saving appliances and the management of hazards like vehicle movements. All our crews also take part in a safety drill each week.
I update the company’s directors and senior managers on our health and safety performance, including incident and near miss rates at board and group safety committee meetings.
What are your main health and safety considerations?
Key hazards include the use of ropes, winches, ramps and other moving equipment during mooring and unmooring; vehicle movements both on-board and at ports; maintenance of hydraulic car decks and entry into confined spaces, as well as slip and trip hazards. To help prevent slips and trips all obstacles on ferries are highlighted in different colours and our staff are well-known for the level of care shown to passengers, particularly the vulnerable.
What initiatives have worked for you?
We want to develop our safety culture further by involving and motivating every employee to take ownership. We have started to apply some of the approaches to health and safety management successfully adopted by the oil and gas industry. For instance, all meetings now start with a ‘safety moment’ where a member of staff highlights a safety issue or lesson, either from work or everyday life; and we are developing a set of Life Saving Rules, setting out key behaviours. These range from the correct use of PPE and safe entry into confined spaces to safe driving. The rules will be rolled out later this year and will also form part of future induction and training.
We also operate a secondment scheme that allows fleet and port staff to spend time in the safety team. This provides some great career development for our staff and also allows the safety team to learn more from our workforce about the effectiveness of our systems.
What are your safety plans for the next few years?
We are about to roll out an e-learning health and safety orientation for all new starters, and will commission an electronic reporting system for all health and safety incidents, near misses and observations. Incident reporting is currently paper-based, but by introducing a simple, online system that everyone can access, we hope to be able to identify trends and improvements more rapidly and accurately.
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