Marine Link
Monday, October 3, 2022

American Waterways Operators

Leading the Way in Marine Safety Th e recent oil spill by grounded barge North Cape off Rhode Island has jolted the U.S. maritime industry with a painful reminder of the importance of prioritizing safety and environmental protection. One major accident, regardless of cause, always has the potential to wreak tremendous damage; such that we cannot afford to let a second go by without efforts directed at minimizing the risks of spill occurences. The marine industry must be the first line of defense in terms of promoting safety and environmental protection in America's inland and coastal waterways. While the industry strives to implement effective preventative measures, the barge and towing industry has taken steps forward, putting a system in place distinguishing it as a leader in marine safety.

This strategy is laid out in AWO 2000, AWO's five-year strategic plan, which embraces a progressive vision of the barge and towing industry as leading a campaign for higher standards of safety and environmental protection in U.S. ports and waterways. The vision statement which serves as the introduction to the strategic plan sets a clear and ambitious goal; namely that AWO "needs to be a leader in promoting marine safety, working in partnership with its members to promote sound operating principles and practices, and working in partnership with the federal government to implement safety improvements." AWO is currently pursuing a focused, multifaceted campaign to position the association and its member companies to meet the demands of this new mission and serve as a catalyst for safety improvements, both internally and in concert with the industry's governmental partners. The Responsible Carrier Program Unanimously approved by AWO's Board of Directors in December 1994 as a code of practice for member companies, the Responsible Carrier Program embodies the AWO 2000 vision of the association working in partnership with its members to promote sound operating principles and practices. The 42 three-part program establishes standards for company management and administration, vessel equipment and inspection, and "human factors" (e.g., crew qualifications and training) which meet or exceed the requirements of federal law and U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) regulations. Reflecting the inclusive process by which it was developed, the program is applicable to all segments of the barge and towing industry, including: inland, coastal, and harbor operators; dry and liquid cargo carriers; and large and small companies alike.

In approving the establishment of the Responsible Carrier Program, AWO set a January 1, 1998 compliance deadline for association members. In April 1995, a comprehensive implementation assistance program designed to give all AWO members the tools needed to adopt the Responsible Carrier Program was unveiled. Scheduled for completion in mid- 1996, the assistance program includes five principal components: 1) the development of an implementation timeline identifying the major steps involved in adopting the Responsible Carrier Program, along with suggested milestones designed to ensure full compliance by January 1998; 2) the production and assembly of sample policies and procedures to help member companies develop company-specific policies, as called for in the management and administration section of the program; 3) compilation of a catalogue of in-house and external training resources to help companies identify sources for the crew training required in the human factors section of the program; 4) development of an implementation clearinghouse to facilitate company-to-company information sharing and dialogue; and, 5) development of an implementation checklist to assist companies nearing completion of the implementation process in evaluating compliance with the program and identifying areas in which additional work may be needed.

The recently completed first full year of Responsible Carrier Program implementation also featured the establishment of an internal and external outreach program designed to promote the new program among both AWO member companies and the barge and towing industry's many constituencies, including Congress, USCG, state and local government agencies, and the industry's shipping customers in the oil, chemical, mining, and agriculture industries. AWO's member communications program included the launching of a regular "Responsible Carrier Program News" feature in the biweekly AWO Letter to answer member questions and disseminate information on program implementation.

Late last year, AWO instituted a mechanism for ongoing review, updating and modification of the Responsible Carrier Program.

This reflected the board's view that its vote to establish the program was only a starting point in the process of developing sound operating principles and practices.

Approaching the goals of AWO 2000 means making the Responsible Carrier Program a living document, and a continuing process — which will be accomplished by incorporating lessons learned and new technological developments into the program, as well as considering, debating, and adopting suggestions to improve and strengthen the program, maintaining an unwavering focus on the program's underlying objective. Other AWO Safety Initiatives While establishment of the Responsible Carrier Program marks the cornerstone of AWO's efforts to promote sound operating principles and practices within its membership, during the past two years, the association has undertaken several other initiatives aimed at advancing the AWO 2000 vision. Key initiatives included a substantial improvement in the association's effort to gather industry safety statistics, the establishment of a new Interregion Safety Committee, and refinement of a safety advisor system initiated in mid-1994 by AWO sector committees. AWO's newly-revamped safety statistics program was initiated in 1994 to fulfill two distinct AWO 2000 directives: 1) to improve m a r i n e ) — safety and e n v i r o n - m e n t a l protection; and, 2) to help make the association the p r i n c i p a l repository and disseminator of industry information and statistics. In 1995, the program produced a 34 percent increase in the number of AWO member companies reporting data on oil and hazardous substance spills, vessel accidents, and personal injuries. This data was formatted to allow individual companies to compare their safety performance against the aggregate results reported by other AWO members. In addition, this information provides the association as a whole with a mechanism for measuring the success of safety initiatives such as the AWO Responsible Carrier Program.

Used in conjunction with existing governmental data, the program will also allow AWO members to compare their safety performance with USCG statistics for the industry as a whole.

The AWO Interregion Safety Committee was established in January 1995 to provide a forum for safety and operational professionals from the association's Midwest/Ohio Valley and Southern regions to "enlist support, share information, and work toward the resolution of common safety-related concerns." The early work of the committee focused on three key areas: 1) the role of towing vessel wheelhouse personnel in administering and supervising workplace safety programs; 2) the characteristics of successful safety incentive and awards programs; and, 3) measures taken by AWO member companies to reduce the incidence of back injuries among vessel crew members. The committee also identified "root cause analysis" of personal injury cases as a priority for its future work.

The sector safety advisor system was initiated in mid-1994 to promote attention to key operational and navigation safety issues within the four AWO sector committees: Inland Liquid; Inland Dry; Coastal; and Harbor Services. The safety advisor, a sector committee member, is responsible for identifying safety issues which may warrant attention from a sector committee and for overseeing the management of those safety issues which the committee elects to pursue. Sector safety initiatives undertaken in 1995 included a proficiency demonstration checklist for pilothouse personnel, and the examination of inspection and replacement guidelines for towlines made from synthetic materials.

AWO-Coast Guard Safety Partnership AWO's efforts to promote sound operating principles and practices within the association's membership laid the foundation for the second major safety initiative launched by the association — the formation of the AWO-Coast Guard Safety Partnership in September 1995. The launching of this ground-breaking partnership epitomizes the AWO 2000 vision of the association "working in partnership with the federal government to implement safety improvements." The AWO-USCG partnership, in turn, is based on the premise that both USCG and the barge and towing industry share a common interest in improving marine safety and environmental protection, and that these causes are best served by a cooperative approach that emphasizes dialogue and results-oriented action through partnership.

AWO's Board of Directors unanimously approved the AWO-USCG partnership six months ago. The agreement was formally inaugurated on September 19,1995, when Rear Admiral James C. Card, chief of the USCG Office of Marine Safety, Security, and Environmental Protection, and I signed a memorandum of understanding committing our respective organizations to a systematic process for cooperation and problem solving. The signing of the agreement capped a nine-month effort by a team of senior USCG and AWO representatives to develop a framework to facilitate cooperative action in the service of improving marine safety and environmental protection.

The structure of the new partnership includes a national Quality Steering Committee (QSC) tasked with identifying safety or environmental issues to be addressed by quality action teams (QATs) comprised of experts from USCG and the barge and towing industry. The first quality action team to emerge from the new partnership was established in November 1995 by the national QSC to study ways to reduce the incidence of crew fatalities on towing vessels. Likely subjects for future quality action teams include the causes of tank barge transfer spills and measures to reduce the incidence of recreational/ commercial vessel accidents.

To facilitate USCG-industry cooperation on regional and local issues, the new partnership also includes a regional and local component. In the fall of 1995, regional and local QSC's were established on a pilot basis in AWO's Midwest/Ohio Valley and Southern regions. Similar QSC's are planned for AWO's Atlantic and Pacific regions pending a fall 1996 evaluation of the results of the regional pilots.

A Look Toward t h e F u t u re AWO is poised to build on its recent successes and to take a major new step toward achieving AWO 2000's strategic vision. In September 1995, AWO's Board of Directors approved an association budget for this year which includes funding for a new senior-level staff position to oversee management and coordination of AWO's safety portfolio, including all facets of Responsible Carrier Program implementation.

The decision to hire a new staff person, the first senior-level job to be added to AWO's headquarters staff in more than a decade, represents a tangible manifestation of the board's commitment to the success of the association's safety program and its goal of completing implementation of the Responsible Carrier Program by the end of 1997.

The addition of the new staff person is intended to enhance the value which AWO members derive from association membership in at least four ways, namely: 1) by providing coordination and focus to the association's multi-faceted safety program; 2) by providing greater and better targeted assistance to all AWO members in achieving Responsible Carrier Program compliance; 3) by securing recognition and tangible incentives for members achieving Responsible Carrier Program compliance; and, 4) by ensuring better organizational focus and targeting of core staff expertise on behalf of AWO's members.

Ultimately, the addition of the new staff position is intended to lock in the priority focus on safety and Responsible Carrier Program implementation.

While the recent accident off Rhode Island is frustrating and disappointing to an industry that has invested energy in safety improvements, it fortunately has not altered AWO's approach to various safety initiatives — if anything, it has reinforced our commitment to carrying these programs forward. The spill is a reminder that safety is achieved through a process of continuous improvement — a process without a terminus.

Subscribe for
Maritime Reporter E-News

Maritime Reporter E-News is the maritime industry's largest circulation and most authoritative ENews Service, delivered to your Email five times per week