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IMCA: The powerful roles of risk management and risk culture

12th August 2013

Our industry is constantly testing itself by working in ever more challenging and hostile situations – deeper water and new frontiers – using increasingly sophisticated vessels and innovative equipment. Its truly global nature is an undoubted strength, but also provides its own cultural challenges

IMCA: The powerful roles of risk management and risk culture
Chris Charman, CEO, International Marine Contractors Association (IMCA)

IMCA is the international trade association representing offshore, marine and underwater engineering companies. There are over 920 IMCA member companies in more than 60 countries with a combined aggregated turnover of USD 150bn. The association's role is to support and represent those members, and to distil that knowledge into good practice guidance, adequate risk management and safe practice for the whole industry on technical and commercial topics.


Since joining IMCA as chief executive in December 2012, I have been on a non-stop fact-finding voyage, actively going 'boots wet' where necessary, to experience and properly understand the day-to-day issues faced by the full range of IMCA members. Risk management and risk financing has been my daily bread for many years, which is why in 2001 I joined the Institute of Risk Management (IRM) ultimately sitting on their board. However, although risk management training and education is an essential business tool, IMCAs members are involved in the very real risk management of lives and assets, where the daily application of risk management practices pays tangible dividends in improving standards and best practice. Prevention, as we all know, is better than any cure.


Throughout the marine construction world there is total dedication to risk management and safety.  Nothing occurs without considerable thought, analysis and collectively agreed procedures all designed to minimise risk. Not to do so risks lives.


The offshore contracting industry has a goal of zero incidents which, whilst idealistic, is a measure of where sights are set. In order to try to achieve this, they work tirelessly on self-improvements and constantly seek to learn from each other in an entirely altruistic way something IMCA encourages in a variety of ways.



Identifying our risk culture

The marine contracting industry is increasingly beset by standards and regulations. Some, as befits a global industry, are international, such as those legislated upon by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) or the International Labour Organization (ILO). Elements of these are difficult to apply in a consistent and persistent manner to vessels across the world, whilst other requirements are regional or local variations on the theme. The number of standards continues to rise, all with real, valid and important goals. However, despite collectively striving for better risk management and enhanced safety, significant differences in global standards remain.


The cause is invariably one of risk culture.


Attitudes to risk and safety vary, even between vessels of the same fleet. When transposed to continents and countries, these variations become even wider. Risk culture is driven from the top down as well as from the bottom up, so all the standards in the world are of little value if the culture inside the ship or organisation does not recognise the need to deliver them.


Many of us are resistant to change, even if we think it might actually help improve vital key performance indicators such as safety or efficiency. Weve always done it this way is a very human, but potentially negative way of looking at the situation. Implementation and cultural shift has to begin at the very top.


Cultural differences can often result in a lack of desire to work to the relevant international standard. Much of what is required is contractually (not culturally) driven, and the resulting collision produces friction. Unless international standards suddenly became universally enforceable then a degree of pragmatism is required. Local standards are invariably merely a starting point in parts of the world.


IMCA does not set standards or regulations. It is not a legislative body. Our approach is that safe and efficient operations must be coupled with a good risk culture, guidelines and attitudes. My background in risk management in a variety of international locations tells me that we have to work collectively towards the best practice standards deliverable in our operating environments. These environments change.


Risk culture, attitudes and behaviours are critical for our companies and operators worldwide. IMCA issues codes of practice and guidance to help achieve positive outcomes. We are aware that companies want to see best practice in operation guidance, developed by the industry and for the industry, helps achieve good and workable practices. Standards and regulations are often more difficult to enforce or implement, and can thus be harder to deliver. Nowhere is there better knowledge or depth of expertise than amongst the members themselves.


Following IMCA guidance, produced by the two core committees Competence & Training; and Safety, Environment and Legislation and four technical committees Diving, Marine, Offshore Survey, and Remote Systems & ROVs , ensures that member companies focus on commonality, working to their strengths. Guidance is a road to safe practice, a road that can be trod on a voluntary basis, but where the benefits and effects can be seen by contractors and clients alike.


Companies increasingly see the use of guidance as an important asset when going out to tender, and often insist that this be abided by. Adherence to guidelines demonstrates an awareness of risk culture, which is an ever-evolving ethos aiding the delivery of best practice.


Creating the right kind of culture


All organisations need to take risks to achieve their objectives, with the prevailing risk culture within the organisation making it significantly better, or worse, at managing these risks. Strategic risk decision making and delivery on performance promises can be significantly affected by the risk culture. Organisations with inappropriate risk cultures will inadvertently find themselves allowing activities that are totally at odds with stated policies and procedures, or operating completely outside these policies – these problems are often found at the very top, so ‘abiding by the risk culture rules’ is important from CEO down.


‘From the top’ – yes, an interesting point. Over a year before I joined IMCA, the association’s immediate past-chairman, Andy Woolgar, raised the issue of elevating competence from the marine contracting sector’s offshore workplace to onshore and management personnel and corporate competence. He was writing in September 2011 about the important work that IMCA has done in providing a competence framework from which members can create their own in-house schemes to assess and record the competence of people working in safety-critical and other roles (over 50 positions in all). It is especially designed for members needing to demonstrate staff competence to clients and regulators and to adhere to standards such as ISO 9001.


As Woolgar said in his quarterly presidents letter in autumn 2011: After Macondo, the US authorities have been emphasising the skills and experience expected from personnel in the Gulf of Mexico. This is being handed down by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) through its Safety and Environmental Management Systems (SEMS) requirements. IMCA is working with the Bureau through the Offshore Operators Committee (OOC) to clarify what skills and experience should be expected and how it should be demonstrated in our sector by using the existing IMCA competence material. This (and related) work is what has raised the question of corporate competence in my mind.   So, from the top, and across the organisation, is key to establishing a successful risk culture.


An inappropriate or wrong sort of risk culture can see individuals or teams on the wrong track, and the rest of the organisation ignoring what is happening, condoning it, or just not seeing it. By wrong types of culture I mean attitudes to commercialism, deadlines, class, status and many an etcetera. The Challenger disaster is an all too public example of how the wrong culture increases risk.


IMCA produces safety aids pocket cards and posters as a constant reminder of the right things to do in an informed manner in a range of situations. There are similarities with a good risk culture, for it enables and rewards individuals and groups for taking the right risks in that all-important informed manner.  The IRM has published a useful list (the pocket card of risks, if you will) depicting a successful risk culture, its at Take any public meltdown (for example UK MPs expenses, Enron, the space shuttle and the Deepwater Horizon disasters) and many of the features highlighted on the list will be notably absent. Risk and risk culture permeate all we do and surround us.


The safety and loss prevention elements of IMCAs work are foundation blocks of a good risk culture. We intend to provide access to guidance and support on the development of good and effective risk cultures, and will use every means open to us from website to annual seminar, and our guidance documents and information notes to build awareness of the importance of that culture.



This article was written by Chris Charman, chief executive, International Marine Contractors Association (IMCA).

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