News Article 01/03/2001

Paper Work - A Safety Issue

01/03/2001 - Scandinavian Shipping Gazette

At Gφteborg Shipping Week this January, a software product aimed at minimizing paperwork "caused" by the ISM Code and promoting corporate memory was presented. Linda Sundgren reports.

In the last ten years, large changes have been instituted with the aim of enhancing the safety of sea transportation, and these have swollen the amount of paperwork on board. But flooding ships with documents, which few people have time to read, is hardly likely to make shipping safer. The computer program Task Assistant has been developed to bring order to the piles of paper and enhance safety.

Maritime safety is the subject of continuous discussion in the industry's international organizations. When major accidents occur, the debate heats up with pressure from both the general public and politicians. Sometimes, all the talk results in concrete proposals and occasionally there is agreement on the need for more stringent regulations.

Every change generates new documents, which are sent out to the ships. It is assumed that the shipboard employees document and file this flood of paper correctly and, indeed, the demands on correct handling have increased, not least as a result of the ISM Code.

The program helps you with just what the ISM Code requires, namely, to create structure and routines. It's a question of planning what has to he done, documenting it and then acting accordingly, says Lars Brφdje at Satpool, which is the agent for the system in Sweden.

Logical and user friendly

Task Assistant is user friendly and its design is simple and logical. It is easy to find what one is looking for in the main menu and then navigate through headings and subheadings. The system is based entirely on the needs of the user. The person sitting in front of the monitor enters his position when logging in and is then first presented with information about matters that affect just his or her position.

For example, if you are the 2nd engineer and the ship is going to bunker in a port you have never called at before, you enter your position and then click until you come to "Bunkers". You are then presented with, among other things, the regulations for bunkering, a checklist of the preparations and information on whether anything special has occurred earlier during bunkering in that particular port. Here, you can also find all the relevant documents and the reports that must he filled in.

The authors of the program have long careers in shipping behind them. You can see that it has been developed by people who know what they are talking about and understand the industry's needs, says Lars Brφdje.

Non-compliance report

When something out of the usual happens, a non-compliance report is written directly in the program. The information is then sent, via the Master or the Chief Engineer, to the company's office ashore. There, decisions are taken as to possible measures and whether the rest of the company's fleet should he informed about the incident.

In shipping, generally speaking, we are probably not very good at following routines, says Lars Brφdje, who himself is a master mariner. Everybody has his own way of solving problems and doing things - imagine airline pilots making small changes to their routines every rime they prepare to land. It would never be accepted.

The shore office's version of Task Assistant contains a database where all the changes are made. Here, information can be added or removed. Adding newly issued regulations is a simple matter; pictures or whole pages can be scanned and then added to the database.

From having been a program designed to handle only documentation and filing, it has expanded to include even more aspects of ship and company organisation and administration. The person who implements the program structures the way in which the whole company is operated, says Lars Brφdje.

Task Assistant can make life easier for the shipboard employees. The fact that information on previous incidents and about the ship itself are gathered in one place and are easily available means that what would otherwise have been time-consuming work, can now he done quickly and simply.

When calling at a port, the classification society, the coast guard service, the port state control and more must all be provided with papers and documentation. With Task Assistant, the master no longer has to stand there swearing and searching through files. Instead, all you have to do is start up the program and call up the documents for fire drills, cargo or whatever you need, says Lars Brφdje.

Safeguard corporate memory

He points out that Task Assistant also has a more long-term and overall purpose, namely, to safeguard so called corporate memory. This consists of the personnel's total knowledge and experience and is a very important factor in the development of a company. Normally, knowledge is passed on by the younger employees learning from the older. But if the change of generations is too abrupt, important knowledge risks being lost. Lars Brφdje says that this is what is happening today.

Jobs for deckboys and other traditional positions for beginners at sea have disappeared and with today's education and training of maritime officers, it is not possible to be schooled in the profession in the same way as earlier.

We must gather and preserve the knowledge and experience gained by people born in the 1940s before they disappear from the companies. And when we can no longer depend on oral traditions to the same extent, Task Assistant can help preserve important knowledge that would otherwise he lost.

Facts about Task Assistant

The idea of Task Assistant was born in the Greek companies Ulysses Systems Ltd and Lyras Shipping in the mid-1990s and was developed in the form of an EU project. The program has been on the market for three years and already being used by several companies, including V-Ships, KOTC and BP. In the UK, a staff of about 60 works full time on the continued development of the program. In 1999, the creators of Task Assistant were the recipients of the CITIS Award and the prestigious Seatrade Award.