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ISM for Dummies

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  • ISM for Dummies

    ISM-CoverPublic.jpgA lot of the older generation of lecturers and seafarers hate and despise the International Safety Management code and everything about it. They generally lecture away about how seafaring was better before its creation, how they didn't need the manuals, checklists, etc.... Now the lecturers are passing this dislike on to their cadets and that, in my opinion, is simply wrong. Cadets are being taught to hate something that they don't fully understand. So, lets try to correct that.



    Up until the 1970's, ship management was generally handled by the vessel owners themselves. Not wanting to have their property fall apart they would put the money and resources into their ship to ensure that it was looked after and well maintained. At the start of the 1980's, there came a new invention. The Ship Management Firm. This was a company that would look after and run a vessel for the ship owner. This was great for the owners as they could cut back the staff they had and hand over nearly all of their responsibility over to the managers. This lead to a decline in general ship maintenance, and the beginning of a darker day of shipping where seafarers started dying in ridiculous circumstances. Eventually it was determined by the IMO and other shipping bodies that something was needed to regulate the operation of ship's and ship managers, and thus, the ISM Code was born.

    Now the ISM Code is generally broken down into two sections. Part A and Part B. Part A is the implementation of the code, the regulations and what not. Part B is the description of all the Certificates involved. Now this is a basic guide to the ISM code and how it affects the seafarer, so Part B isn't really relevant at the moment - I will leave that for another day. This is Part A.

    Part A is made up of 12 distinct chapters: -

    Chapter 1 - General

    This section deals with the definitions used within the ISM code, the objectives of the code itself and who it applies to and how it applies to them. Fairly simple really.

    Chapter 2 - Policies

    Easy peasy, this section is about the policies that all shipping companies must have, and must implement aboard their vessels. All shipping companies have an Environmental Policy, Quality Policy, Health and Safety Policy and a Drug and Alcohol Policy. Copies of these policies can be found plastered all over the ship usually as you are required to know them and sign a piece of paper saying that you understand them.

    Chapter 3 - Responsibilities

    Basically, this describes the company's responsibility to the vessel and its crew and to its documentation. Not really something a cadet would be involved in.

    Chapter 4 - Designated Person

    This is the tough one. If you stop and ask seafarers about the role of the Designated Person Ashore (DPA), they will say something along the lines of "someone we call when we are in trouble". This actually isn't true. The DPA is the man (or woman) responsible for preparing and revising all the documentation, implementing the company's policies, performing vessel audits to ensure the vessel is following the policies and procedures that the company has set down, and they will have direct contact with the highest levels of a company's management. This doesn't mean you call him with every little problem as he is not the vessel's first point of contact. For nearly all ships, the first point of contact should be the Superintendent. It's like that in every company.

    Chapter 5 - Master's Responsibility and Authority

    Easy section this one. This section basically describes the level of authority the Master of a vessel has. To simplify it, he has over-riding authority, he is the King, Head Honch, Elvis of the ship. The buck stops with him. Rest easy though, because he is also the one who usually gets carted off to jail should somthing happen.

    The Captain is also the one who maintains the ship's on board Safety Management System. He will be the one who will post it in the crew mess and implement any revisions received from the shore management. Also, the Master will, normally upon sign off, review the entire documentation and send his opinions to the shore-side management. This is known as the "Master's Review" and is used to help us identify parts of the SMS that require some change.

    Chapter 6 - Resources and Personnel

    Another simple one. Basically, the ISM code says that all personnel on board a company's vessels must be appropriately qualified and experienced, completely understands a company's SMS and that the shore side teams give them all the support they need to ensure that the vessel operates as safely as possible.

    It also says that all new crew are given proper familiarisation. For junior officers, 12 hours is normally enough, for senior officers we normally do one cargo operation (being tankers and all). I used to assist with the audits in my previous company and have done a few vessel inspections and on several occasions I have come across familiarisation documents where a crewman has signed saying they are familiar with a piece of equipment that the vessel doesn't even carry. Normally this is cargo pumps for engineers (Wait, you have steam turbines, why have you signed for FRAMO?) and ECDIS for some of the deckies ("Where is your ECDIS?" "Urmmm"). Make sure you read what is actually on the form before you sign to say you understand how it all works, it can come back to bite you. It doesn't look good to an auditor and will result in an "observation" or "non compliance" being issued.

    The code also describes how any and all training needs of crews should be addressed as it lays the groundwork for continual improvement of a person's skills. This section of the code also deals with the working language of the vessel. To put it in plain English, whatever language the company manuals on the vessel are in, is the working language of the vessel. If you are a Russian company, with Russian sailors and you're manuals are in English, then officially the working language is English.

    Chapter 7 - Ship Board Operations

    This is the section that causes the most ire amongst the "salty old sea-dogs". To keep it simple, this section states that all ship board operations must be documented, with checklists where appropriate. The number of checklists is normally determined by each company, in mine we only have checklists for critical operations. Basically, one where either someone could be injured, something damaged or polluted if the crew bugger it up.

    Now this is a treasure trove for cadets, especially when it comes to report writing as it will describe nearly every process that they must learn about in detail, sometimes with a checklist; something that definitely helps writing the reports.

    Chapter 8 - Emergency Preparedness

    What it says in the title. The code basically wants a company to document and describe it's actions when a hazardous incident occurs, drill plans, describes what drills should be ran and when and contingency plans. All good stuff and a fairly interesting read in all.

    Chapter 9 - Reports of Non-Conformances, hazardous occurances and accidents

    This section is one of the toughest to implement on a vessel. No crew ever want to report a near miss or non-conformance as they believe it will make them look bad. This is not true. Nearly all safety departments love near miss reports because they always provide a lesson that can be sent out and distributed to the rest of a company's fleet and, if done correctly, a learning experience for all. Always good to learn from someone else's mistakes, as well as your own. Never hesitate to fill in a near miss report, your safety department will like it and it shows that there is someone who is safety conscious on the vessel (plus most companies normally expect a minimum of three per month, and will not believe you if you say "but nothing hazardous has happened" as it would be a lie).

    Non-Conformance? Basically, if an operation or someone's actions on the ship do not follow the manual, set policies or legislations, then this is viewed as a non-conformance. No crew like filling these in as again, they think it makes them look terrible and could result in the ship undergoing an audit. Audits are not to be feared. When we do audits, we are not auditing the people, but we are auditing the system and it's implementation on board. Never lie, attempt to distract or delay an auditor, as generally, they've being doing it for a while and they know all the tricks and they don't fall for them...

    Chapter 10 - Maintenance of the Ship and Equipment

    Exactly what it says. Basically, the ship and equipment on board should be maintained in accordance with manufacturer's instructions, all of which should be inspected, checked and recorded at set intervals. If something is found to be wrong, then it should be reported to the company. Again, we like to see records of this, a ship's CMMS is normally the tool for this job. Make sure you do it correctly as it is a nightmare to fix otherwise and it gets a bit tiresome having to ask someone to update their PMS constantly.

    Chapter 11 - Documentation

    The ISM code basically says that the company must have relevant documentation, that the documentation is controlled by a designated person, that all changes are reviewed and then approved, obsolete documents are removed and that they are stored in a location where all crew/staff can access them freely at their own leisure.

    Chapter 12 - Company Verification and Review

    This is the part that describes how a company's ISM and SMS are monitored. The upper management will send auditors to vessels to conduct an audit (normally once per year), perform a management review where operationally important folks sit down and go through the documentation and any problems with it's implementation and the monitoring of any and all accidents and hazardous occurances. Again, this is not something a cadet would normally be involved in.

    Well, that's pretty much it. If you want further clarification about any of the points above then ask away and I'll do my best to answer!

    • dsmith
      #1
      dsmith commented
      Editing a comment
      This is very helpful! Thank you. Currently starting oral prep in fleetwood and legislation is by far my worst area. I'll be sure to send others in this direction.

    • GuinnessMan
      #2
      GuinnessMan commented
      Editing a comment
      Glad it helped...

      Sent from my SM-G925F using Tapatalk
    Posting comments is disabled.

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