Safety First

Safety First: Ship of Fools

The Costa Concordia accident in the Mediterranean Sea last month captured worldwide attention. The image of a cruise ship listing on its side close to shore was something out of a Hollywood movie, and many reporters and passengers compared the accident to the movie “Titanic.” This accident, which claimed the lives of at least 16 passengers and one crew member, poses many lessons for maritime safety experts. Perhaps surprisingly, solid waste services employers and employees can learn something from this incident as well.

According to numerous published reports, the Costa Concordia tore a 150-foot-long hole in its hull when it struck rocks as it passed very close to Isola di Giglio, a small island off the Tuscan coast. These reports state the ship was about one mile closer to shore than the scheduled route. Although it is not known why the ship’s captain, Francesco Schettino, deviated from the usual route, several media outlets reported that Captain Schettino wanted to impress the residents of the island, as the ship’s headwaiter reportedly was from there.

Lesson 1: It can be dangerous to deviate from a set route. If a supervisor or dispatcher has instructed a driver to follow a particular route, unilateral changes can lead to an accident.

Although many imagine the captain stoically staying on his ship until all passengers and crew are safely evacuated, Captain Schettino apparently did not subscribe to that tradition. Numerous sources report that he was one of the first people to leave the stricken vessel; although he claims he inadvertently fell into a lifeboat while helping to lower them. A Costa executive had to convince Captain Schettino to re-board the Costa Concordia to supervise the chaotic evacuation of the stricken ship.

Lesson 2: Leadership matters in times of crisis. If there is an accident, running away only makes things worse, and can lead to further injuries or fatalities.

The passengers were told initially that the ship had an electrical problem, and it was only after the ship began listing on its side, nearly an hour later, that they were ordered to evacuate. The delay likely contributed to the chaotic evacuation and may have prevented some from taking more aggressive action to save their own lives or the lives of others.

Lesson 3: Clear and honest communication with customers after an accident is essential. This can help to reduce the immediate adverse impacts and potentially mitigates long-term financial liabilities associated with the accident.

Many passengers reported that they never received any instructions on how to evacuate the ship, and the crew failed to provide any lifeboat drills even hours after the ship had left port. In addition, because the ship included passengers from a wide variety of countries who spoke different languages, there was a significant language barrier once the order to evacuate the ship was sounded.

Lesson 4: Providing safety training BEFORE an accident occurs is critically important, and it is essential to ensure that personnel understand their training – no matter what their nationality.

A week after the accident, the market capitalization of the ship’s owner (Carnival) had declined by nearly three billion dollars. The Costa Concordia accident is also expected to cost Carnival nearly one billion dollars in lost revenue, environmental cleanup costs, refunds to passengers, legal costs and other disaster-related expenses.

Lesson 5: Accidents can have dramatic financial consequences. In addition to having adequate insurance coverage, companies need to provide training to all employees, including their “captains,” to reduce the odds of a major and costly accident.

No garbage trucks were involved in the Costa Concordia accident. Nevertheless, I hope American solid waste companies are learning from this tragic and preventable event.

TAGS: Safety
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