Avoid Poorly Implemented Training Programs

Friday, March 06, 2009
Lawrence R. DeMarcay

 All vessel owners and operators will agree that employee training and education is of prime importance when it comes to running a safe operation.  A considerable amount of time, effort, expense and other resources are usually allotted to such programs.  Although some programs are implemented with very little fanfare, other programs are often rolled out with a great amount of attention and the highest of expectations.  Unfortunately, many of these programs, after the initial enthusiasm has worn off, are often shifted to the back burner and rarely used.

Although the expense used to formulate and implement the plan is a significant loss once the program is unofficially abandoned, a more significant cost comes with the increased liability of having a plan in place that is not followed.

Although there are many areas that a company can train its employees in, there are numerous areas of training that are particularly relevant to vessel owners and operators.  There are the mandatory training programs that are required by the Coast Guard.  These programs include training and education required to obtain and maintain marine licenses, drug testing programs and other vessel maintenance and inspection issues.

In addition to these mandatory programs that everyone participates in, there are other optional areas where education and training can make a big difference to the company.  These areas include accident reporting, preventing accidents, how to handle oil or chemical spills and advanced fire fighting.  In addition to these safety related topics, training can also be undertaken in the non-marine related areas of sexual harassment, customer service, employee relations, communication and various other areas. Although some of these training programs are more suited to employees that operate in environments with more employees, they can still be very helpful to vessel based crews.

There are numerous benefits to the proper implementation of these plans, including improved risk management and liability reduction, reduced employee turnover, increased capacity to adopt new technologies, increased job satisfaction and an enhancement of the company’s reputation within its market and community.

Although there are enormous benefits associated with training your employees, there are also potential risks if the training is not administered properly.  There are two distinct types of liability in regards to training programs.

The first type of liability arises when an injured person or entity alleges that the company’s lack of training caused the alleged incident.  In this scenario, the plaintiff will argue that the cause of his/her injury was due to the actions of a co-worker who received insufficient company training.  This argument puts the company on the defensive and in a position where it must argue that there was no need to train an employee regarding this particular situation or that the employee, in light of his/her work experience, should have known of the hazards involved. 

The second type of liability arises in situations where the company has a plan in place to train employees to avoid certain hazards.  But, because the training program is no longer actively pursued, it was not an integral part of the employee training process.  A simple example is liability arising from a lifting case.  Many companies have implemented a lifting safety or back injury prevention program that provides education and training to employees on proper lifting techniques and guidelines.  However, if this program has not remained an integral part of the training process and an employee does not receive the training that has been prepared for the company, it provides an enterprising plaintiff an additional avenue to cast liability upon the company.  Essentially, the employee who may have hurt himself because of utilizing improper lifting techniques, although the item to be lifted was well within the scope of his job description, would argue that he hurt his back because he was not trained in using proper lifting techniques.  The company will argue that it did not have a duty to teach this employee how to lift the object. In response, the plaintiff will argue that the company undertook the duty to train him on proper lifting techniques when it implemented the program and failure to utilize the program is the true cause of the alleged injury.  Although it is not a sure thing for the plaintiff, the existence of a program covering this area makes it difficult for the company to know that common sense should have ruled the day.

A simple case, although non-maritime related, explains this negligence principle.  In Louisiana, the Supreme Court issued a case called Harris v. Pizza Hut.  In Harris, the plaintiff was shot while dining at a Pizza Hut restaurant located on Claiborne Avenue in New Orleans.  Although Pizza Hut was not responsible for the actions of the shooter, as this was an intentional tort, the Court held that Pizza Hut was responsible for providing for the plaintiff’s safety because it had undertaken the duty to protect the plaintiff from this type of harm when it hired an armed security guard.  Thus, because a negligent security guard did not prevent the shooting from occurring, Pizza Hut was found liable.  Essentially, Pizza Hut was found liable only because it had gone the extra mile to provide security that would not normally have been required.

Another marine related, but often overlooked training issue, occurs when a training program requires a company or its employees to adhere to standards that are over and above those promulgated by the Coast Guard or MMS.  The Responsible Carrier Program developed by the American Waterways Operators provides such an example.  The Coast Guard regulations regarding the operation of vessels and the transportation of minerals are less stringent than those as adopted by the Responsible Carrier Program.  Most vessel operators that transport minerals, and their byproducts, subscribe to the Responsible Carrier Program in an effort to obtain additional clients and lessen the costs of its insurance coverage.  However, once the company adopts the responsible Carrier Program, it will be held to a higher standard.  Thus, if a company signs up for the Responsible Carrier Program, but does nothing to educate and train its employees on these more stringent guidelines, a claimant could prove a liability case against the company even if it was complying with the accepted industry standards at the time of the incident.  It is very difficult to argue that the industry standard is acceptable when the company makes the decision to comply with a higher standard.  In a liability setting, the company will be better off having done nothing if it does not adhere to the higher standard that it voluntarily signed up for.

Another example is when management provides an opportunity for employees to anonymously report risks but does not act to resolve the risks, the company is again creating a liability for itself. 

Failure to properly implement training and education plans can also expose the company to additional unintended liability that is not closely related to the reason for implementing the plan.  For example, the failure to provide an adequately trained crew to a vessel could allow a claimant to avoid a limitation of liability action filed by a vessel owner.  Under maritime law, a vessel owner may be entitled to limit its liability to the value of the vessel and its freight pending at the end of the voyage in the event of an incident.  However, providing an inadequate crew to the vessel constitutes “privity of knowledge” on behalf of management and will avoid any attempt to limit liability.  Additionally, many insurance policies void coverage for an incident if the incident occurs because an inadequately trained crew was provided for the voyage.

For vessel owners, undertaking training and education plans but not following such plans can create liability.  Once selected, these training plans should be implemented and engrained into the company’s culture and remain at the forefront of the employee education and training mission.  Properly trained crews will save you money in the long run.

5. Advanced Marine Propulsion with a New Twist (notify sender & ask for high res)
Cut    waterjet.jpg
OCOR Corporation in San Diego, California has recently patented a submerged waterjet marine propulsion system that utilizes a helical lobe pump to displace water through a jet system. The ‘new twist’ refers to the helical geometry of the pump lobes on each of the counter-rotating rotors.

Called OCOR Marine Propulsion (OMP), the new system has the potential to dramatically reduce the fuel consumption of virtually any size vessel and do so without cavitation. The net result is a significant reduction in pollution to both marine life and the environment in addition to reducing the cost of vessel operation. The design was awarded one of eight Honorable Mentions out of a field of 1150 entries in the 2007 NASA Tech Briefs Magazine “Creating the Future” competition featured in the April 2008 issue.

Originally invented in 1975, the helical lobe pump has never been used in a marine propulsion application generally because of the large rotor size that would be required to match the flow rate of comparable axial flow devices such as a propeller, or in the case of water-jet, an impeller. However, use of the lobe pump for marine propulsion takes advantage of some unique characteristics of the continuous flow device that make it an ideal choice for the application. First of all, the flow through the system is virtually linear and in-line with the direction of vessel travel thereby eliminating the swirl losses of conventional axial flow rotors. Forward motion of the vessel creates suction head within the submerged inlet allowing the pump to run at more than twice the rotational speed compared to conventional, stationary applications. The pump is also a positive displacement device capable of producing high hydrostatic pressure within the water-jet housing ahead of the discharge. Lastly, reverse thrust with the OMP system is accomplished by simply reversing the rotation of the pump rotors causing water to be drawn into the discharge and expelled out the inlet compared to conventional water-jets that use an external bucket device to redirect the water flow.

The simplest configuration of the submerged OMP design features a cast housing that contains the dual rotor pump. The housing mounts within an opening in the underside of a watercraft hull as shown in the figure to the right. The lower, submerged portion of the housing contains the pump inlet and discharge openings. The forward end of the submerged housing is a structural grille that is approximately seventy percent open to allow water to enter the suction side of the pump. The grille also filters large objects from entering the pump and provides support for the lower bearing assembly. The upper part of the pump housing is within the vessel hull so that the power input shaft to the primary rotor can be attached to the motor.

The OMP unit shown in the figures has been sized to replace an outboard motor used to power a twenty foot water craft. At first sight, the submerged portion of the housing looks as though it would create extremely high fluid dynamic drag. In reality, the drag of the housing (measuring approximately five and a half inches high by fourteen and a half inches wide) is slightly less than that of a 150 hp outboard motor because the majority of the flow in the frontal region of the housing passes through the device much like the flow through a jet engine. Also the frontal wetted perimeter of the submerged housing is approximately 30% less than that of the aforementioned 150 hp outboard motor.

The submerged water-jet with a fixed area discharge will have its highest efficiency at a narrow range of engine RPM and corresponding pump speed that is matched to a volume flow and discharge area. This is because the hydrostatic discharge pressure, and hence thrust, is a function of the discharge water velocity squared which decreases rapidly with reduced flow. Nonetheless, an analysis of the fuel consumption between a twenty foot day cruiser powered by a 150 hp outboard and the same watercraft powered by an OCOR Marine Water-jet indicates a fuel saving of 41.7% at a vessel speed of 22.1 mph.

To overcome the limitation that the fixed discharge area system imposes on performance, OCOR Corporation has designed and patented a variable area discharge mechanism wherein flow from the pump is discharged longitudinally beneath the vessel through an opening that contains a movable center-body.

Translation of the center-body results in a change in the cross sectional area of the discharge opening thereby optimizing the water discharge velocity to any predetermined vessel speed, sort of like having an infinitely variable transmission on an automobile. A cross section of the OMP flow path with the center-body installed is shown below. A comparison of the actual performance parameters of a twenty foot day cruiser equipped with a 150 HP outboard motor and a numerical analysis of the OMP system for the same vessel indicates an average fuel saving of 33% over the speed range of zero to 39.6 miles per hour.

Another factor that could enhance the performance of the system and is yet to be included in the numerical analysis, is the effect of the shape of the trailing portion of the moveable center-body that lies aft of the discharge opening. This tapered body is a control surface that is acted upon by discharge water jet stream and generates additional thrust somewhat similar to the propulsion characteristic of the Aerospike rocket nozzle, a design that has been considered by aerospace engineers for more than four decades. For more information on the Aerospike see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aerospike_engine

Although the data presented here is based on a relatively small pleasure boat hull, the design is applicable to any size vessel. Very large vessels, such as a cruise ship or an aircraft carrier, might benefit by the installation of multiple power units. For instance, two submerged power units near the bow and two units just forward of the stern would not only yield a significant fuel saving, but enhanced the vessels maneuverability. In addition to saving fuel and hence operating cost compared to conventional propeller and/or current water-jet systems, the OCOR Marine Propulsion system reduces the release of green house gases into the atmosphere in direct proportion to the fuel saved.

By Lawrence R. DeMarcay
Lawrence R. DeMarcay, III is a partner at Fowler Rodriguez Valdes-Fauli in the firm’s New Orleans, Louisiana office.  He can be reached at 504-595-5122 or ldemarcay@frvf-law.com.

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