Working Together in Safety: the key to shipping’s future success

Grahaeme Henderson

Grahaeme Henderson

Together in Safety Chairman

The ‘Together in Safety’ coalition’s core objective is to save seafarers’ lives, while delivering improved business efficiency and commercial effectiveness, and is fundamental to safeguarding shipping’s future success, Grahaeme Henderson reports

Safety is the single most important subject for any shipping company. Getting our safety programmes right is imperative, while key to shipping’s future success. Safety is not just about incidents; it is more encompassing and fundamental to everything we do.

Put simply, safety is about people. It is about our employees, who are the lifeblood of our companies. Safety is about motivating our people to do a great job every day.

Safety is about developing a mindset of learning from each other, about enabling teams to work together, generating fresh ideas, and delivering solutions.

Safety is about putting our people at the very centre of shipping. Safety is about how the industry can work as one group with a common purpose and as equal partners.


Safety is about the sustainability of shipping into the future, in attracting new high-quality talent into our industry, realising decarbonisation and delivering new technologies. Having plateaued in recent years, there is a need for a new approach focusing on our people — and one that does not rely on regulation, which can only go so far.

Safety needs to remain at the very heart of every company, and it is imperative that the safety performance in shipping is improved.

However, despite its importance, safety appears to have moved down the agenda in the shipping industry.

Why safety?

The most important aspect of safety is in saving the lives of our seafarers. Data tells us that while there have been improvements in some shipping sectors, the overall number of incidents and fatalities has stagnated, with little improvement in recent years.

Shipping is still one of the world’s most hazardous industries.

Behind the data are the lives of the people that work for us. They, and their families and children, entrust their safety to us and we are accountable. We need to look after our seafarers as if they were our family and children too. If there is an accident, it will cost a company dearly, in terms of both the direct and indirect costs. Insurance may cover some of the costs, but the company will incur the cost of delays while investigations take place, loss of revenue, compensation costs, management time, and more.

There are also indirect costs, such as the reputation of the company, how the employees feel and react, and the personal reputation of the chief executive and leadership team. From another perspective, it has been proven that companies with a great safety performance record also have a great business performance. It is also recognised that the traits of a great safety leader are the same as for a great business leader.

With a strong focus on safety, the management and the entire organisation can focus on the positive aspects of preventing incidents, with the added advantage of a strong commercial performance. It empowers and motivates staff to perform well and increases trust. It builds a good reputation for the company and employees, while encouraging a positive approach.

‘Together in Safety’

Three years ago, a new approach was developed by establishing an industry coalition called ‘Together in Safety’. The principal objective is to save seafarers’ lives, while delivering improved business efficiency and commercial effectiveness.

‘Together in Safety’ comprises all of shipping’s industry groups, including the International Chamber of Shipping, BIMCO, OCIMF, Intertanko, Intercargo, Interferry, Cruise Liners International, the World Shipping Council and many of the world’s major shipping companies, as well as insurance, classification societies, and country representatives.

There are no costs involved in becoming a partner in ‘Together in Safety’, and it is free to use the many proven best practices to deliver sustained learning and an improved performance. The major focus is on stopping major incidents from happening, where people are killed or there is major damage and pollution. ‘Together in Safety’ has benefited from liaising with other industries, such as air and rail, that have faced similar challenges and made significant improvements.

A key aspect of ‘Together in Safety’ is that companies can move quickly to delivery. There is no need to spend time and incur the high costs in preparing materials, which are readily available and free of charge.

A key building block of ‘Together in Safety’ is the ‘Framework of Strategic Drivers’. Shipping companies should become familiar with the framework and test for alignment with their existing company safety programme, making adjustments as required.

There are four strategic drivers, the first of which is leadership. Visible safety leadership must stem from the top down, with the right safety behaviours and mindset modelled by the chief executive and the leadership team.

It is important to demonstrate visible leadership, by starting every conversation with safety, visiting people on the front line, leading the safety programme and reviewing progress, and taking corrective action where required.

This approach will set the level of safety expectations for the rest of the organisation. People will respond positively, and the impact will be felt from the very top of the company right through to the seafarer.

The second strategic driver is incident prevention. Following a detailed review of recent major shipping incidents, it is evident that certain events are repeated. As such, it is hardly surprising that the safety performance in shipping has reached a plateau.

‘Together in Safety’ is focused on 15 categories of major incident types where people are killed and injured, or there are high-cost insurance claims.

For each incident type, best practices are available through ‘Together in Safety’. Companies can consider those that are the most important for their activities and risk exposure.

The third strategic driver is wellbeing and care, where ‘Together in Safety’ has developed a standard industry approach and identified a suite of best practices on wellbeing awareness with knowledge- building modules. Work under way includes a common approach to seafarer assistance programmes for use when there are mental health-related issues.

The fourth strategic driver is related to collaboration. Working together on current challenges, industry groups and shipping companies are combining collective knowledge and expertise for the benefit of the wider industry.

Together, we can improve seafarer safety.

We are dedicated to promoting safety globally. Safety governs our overall thinking, guides our planning, and is at the top of the list in all our actions – a total commitment to safety.

Focused collaboration will simplify and standardise data collection, where it is recognised there is a lack of full reporting of reliable and accurate data concerning fatalities, suicides and injuries involving seafarers.

Further is collaboration on the safety of future fuels. A group has been assessing operational risks and the resulting competence requirements for safe handling.

In addition to the specific subjects, ‘Together in Safety’ is working with and learning from other industries, including air and rail, with links to both the International Air Transport Association and the Rail Safety and Standards Board.

‘Together in Safety’ holds the key to shipping’s future success. This new approach will require passion, dedication and motivation to put our people at the very centre of the shipping industry.

Our employees are the new customer of the future; they must be well cared for as individuals. It is important in today’s business to make everybody feel valued.

The next steps are straightforward, with companies wishing to take part in the ‘Together in Safety’ initiative able to sign up via our website.

The benefits are huge, both immediately and in the future.

Dr Grahaeme Henderson, OBE, is former vice-president, shipping and maritime, at Shell International Trading & Shipping Co and chair of ‘Together in Safety’ 

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin

Human performance & wellbeing


Research shows that safe and well-motivated teams are happier and more productive – and we all have a role to play in making sure incidents are reduced and everyone feels that they are being looked after at work.

The Maritime wellbeing website below has a wealth of information on how leaders and individual team members can take steps to improve physical and mental wellbeing.

Data utilisation


The more our industry collaborates, the greater our chances of achieving our vision of an incident free industry. Incident and near miss data is critical to our ability to learn, and sharing data across our industry is how we will truly make a difference.

We have worked together with HiLo Risk Management to support development of a free to use, anonymous data platform.

Golden safety rules

The 9 Golden Safety Rules focus on the work areas known to have a significant impact on safety in the maritime industry – from fall prevention and spotting hazards to hotwork and navigation.

Taking each area in turn, the rules highlight the key issues involved and give operators a series of Dos and Don’ts that can be shared with employees to promote safer working practices.