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Sterile Wheelhouse
Episode 11st August 2022 • Alongside • Standard Club
00:00:00 00:19:46

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In this episode we look at how the aviation and maritime industries are collaborating in order to improve safety.

Our host Kait Borsay talks to Patrick Browne, founder of Flightdeck Safety Initiatives (FSi), and Jim Guidry from Kirby Corporation, the largest tank barge operator in the United States, transporting bulk liquid products throughout the Mississippi River System on the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, along all three U.S. Coasts.

Jim is a member of Standard Club and sits on the Standard Club Safety and Loss Advisory Committee, bringing together senior technical and marine managers from the club’s membership to share knowledge and experience.

Episode website: https://www.standard-club.com/knowledge-news/alongside-podcast-series/

Transcripts

Kait Borsay:

Hello and welcome to Alongside, the podcast from Standard Club for the shipping industry across the world. I'm Kait Borsay. In this episode we explore the work between the aviation and maritime industries to understand what lessons have been taken and shared from the skies to the seas in terms of safety.

Patrick Browne:

I think the key is education of human factors up and down the hierarchy and crew environment.

Jim Guidry:

If you give the human being a framework to work in, that allows them to excel. I think they will choose it every time and that's what we've seen with sterile wheelhouse.

Kait Borsay:

Joining me is Patrick Browne, a former pilot who's accumulated more than 18,000 hours of military and commercial jet flight time, and who is founder of Flightdeck Safety Initiatives. FSI is a global provider of custom design, safety training and educational systems for high risk industries. Also with me is Jim Guidry, EVP Vessel Operations at Kirby Corporation, who is a member of the Standard Club and the largest tank barge operator in the United States, transporting bulk liquid products throughout the Mississippi River system on the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway along all three US coasts. Welcome to the show, Patrick.

Patrick Browne:

Thank you. It's a pleasure to be here. And we're looking forward to this podcast.

Kait Borsay:

And a warm welcome to you, Jim.

Jim Guidry:

Thank you, Kait. We're excited to be here and talk about our industry.

Kait Borsay:

Well, thank you both for joining us. Let's start with the concept behind this which is called sterile wheelhouse or sterile cockpit. Patrick, let's begin with you. What does that mean in aviation?

Patrick Browne:

Okay, so the the sterile cockpit doesn't refer to the clinical cleanliness of the flight deck, although during our COVID terms of might be interpreted as such. It's a concept introduced by the FAA in 1981, where there's no non essential conversations below 10,000 feet as a result of several preventable fatal accidents due to a loss of situational awareness and extraneous non essential chitchat on the flight deck at critical phases of flight, resulting in undesired outcomes, loss of life. In aviation, it's incorporated into several areas not just limited to altitude. It's typically used during climb, descent, especially in congested areas, in-flight refuelling and in the service approaching and avoiding bad weather, in-flight emergencies, engine failures, loss of structural integrity. In maritime it should be used when docking, blocking, narrow bridge transits, congested areas, watch changes and anytime a lookout is utilised. Sterile cockpit allows communication such as ATC radio calls, checklists, abnormal situations and emergency procedures and traffic etc.

Kait Borsay:

So it refers to kind of a cleaning up a chit chat effectively is what you've just told me. No, no conversations no talking unless it's necessary. Is it exactly the same, Jim, in the wheelhouse compared to the cockpit?

Jim Guidry:

Yes, it's the same. Again, it's not about the cleanliness of the wheelhouse. It is about duty distractions and things that can distract you like conversations that don't surround the evolution that we're in, whether we're docking or locking or doing something like that. And it goes so far as to stop distractions from phones ringing and other conversations about things not related to the work we're doing. You know, there's a lot of things that can happen in the wheelhouse when you're coming in to dock a barge. And you can get distracted by things like a phone call at the wrong time. So we use a Faraday bag and we put the phone in the Faraday bag which prevents it from ringing. So the wheelman doesn't have to worry about that call at the wrong moment, which even if he doesn't answer will distract him and make him think about who's calling? Why are they calling? What do they want?

Kait Borsay:

Is that just for specific periods, then, Jim?

Jim Guidry:

It's basically now a part of our company policy that the wheelman who is the person in charge of the vessel can declare sterile wheelhouse at any time that he believes it's necessary to allow him to focus better, or he has specific times that we ask him to declare sterile wheelhouse, like locking, docking, undocking, anytime that there's really a lot going on with the vessel and there's critical focus needed.

Kait Borsay:

Jim, tell me why Kirby got involved.

Jim Guidry:

We had basically plateaued on our safety programme and we're looking around for something new and at the same time hired a new safety manager, who was a 26 year Coast Guard veteran and he had seen a presentation that Patrick did, and got Patrick involved with Kirby and helped us to learn some things about the aviation industry and some of the things they did around behavioural safety to ensure that their pilots had consistent behaviour patterns to improve safety.

Kait Borsay:

And Patrick, for FSI, what did you find in maritime? What was different to the other industries that you'd worked with?

Patrick Browne:

Well, maritime as well as many of the other industries we've worked with do not typically have the same disastrous outcomes we have in aviation, where there's a tragic loss of life in one single accident. So although maritime does have a greater impact on the environment than aviation, in aviation flight crews are constantly seeking ways to prevent accidents, as we're usually the first ones at the scene of the accident, which is obviously undesired. So I believe other industries have also turned to aviation to apply the lessons learned to improve their safety records, similar to those in aviation.

Kait Borsay:

Was is the first time that you'd worked with a Maritime Company, Patrick?

Patrick Browne:

We've actually worked with approximately 12 or 13 other maritime industries ranging from cruise lines to tugboats. So we have worked with maritime for quite a few years now.

Kait Borsay:

Jim, tell me your first reaction to this idea.

Jim Guidry:

Well Kait, I got to be honest, at first, it was hard to see the connection. Planes fly very fast. And the evolution of landing or takeoff is very fast. And we move, when we're really moving, at about five miles an hour. And docking can take 45 minutes or an hour. And so at first, you know, I struggled a little to understand how the behaviours could be similar in both industries, but have since learned that they are and the behaviours, regardless of speed, have tremendous impact on safety.

Kait Borsay:

Jim, let's just set the scene - who's in the wheelhouse?

Jim Guidry:

Well, typically on an inland vessel, you will have one person in the wheelhouse, who's doing the navigation - actually steering and taking care of everything upstairs. He of course could call for assistance if he needed it. But most inland tugboats are manned by one person. The bridge is manned by more people in coastal and ocean navigation. But the same concerns for distractions exist. So you can have six people on the bridge. But if they're having six different thoughts, and thinking six different actions, it's actually as dangerous or more dangerous than one person in the wheelhouse. Who knows what they're going to do.

Kait Borsay:

Is it possible for you to be distracted by other ships? It's not just necessarily what's kind of going on inside the wheelhouse? Could there be external distractions as well?

Jim Guidry:

Yes, of course, there's always other traffic in the area that you have to be aware of. And that those those distractions we have to deal with. But the way sterile wheelhouse helps us with other vessels, is when we have an assist vessel that's assisting us on or off the dock, or in a manoeuvre, we will ask that vessel to go into sterile wheelhouse as well, so that their crew and their activities don't lead to distractions.

Kait Borsay:

Patrick, I'm curious to come back to you for a second, do you often get perhaps a slightly dubious response... people not quite sure how this is going to be relevant to their business when you first work with someone who you approach someone for the first time?

Patrick Browne:

Yes, and Jim's outlined it very well. We find other industries indicate that aviation with altitudes we operate in three different planes as it were, whereas maritime is basically on the water and we're in the air. So there's a lot of differences there. And as Jim mentioned, the speeds; so unfortunately, a lot of companies, the leadership do not endorse these lessons from aviation in a way because we've always done it this way. So we don't really need some of the lessons aviation has taught us, because they're totally different industries as far as what what we do.

Kait Borsay:

Patrick the sterile cockpit practice was introduced into the aviation industry in 1981. Were there issues when it was first brought in?

Patrick Browne:

So it's interesting when this was first introduced, there was confusion with the coordination between the two cultures in an airline as crew. We have a cockpit and we have a cabin. And there was this attitude of 'Shall We tell the pilots?' dilemma. On March 10, I can give you an example, in 1989 Air Ontario 1363 and F 28 was operating to Winnipeg in Canada with 69 passengers. The aircraft crashed shortly after takeoff, there were 24 Fatal fatalities and 45 survivors. But interestingly enough before takeoff, two passengers observed ice on the wings, and advised one of the flight attendants that there was ice on the wings, and they should return to get the ice and one of them actually was a Air Canada pilot. So Sonia Hardwick was the chief flight attendant, and she overheard the conversation, but did not relay it to the captain. As a result of not fully understanding the sterile cockpit rule. And remember, this was back in 1989. So she didn't call the cockpit to tell the pilots because she thought the pilots did not welcome operational information from the flight attendants. And we see this a lot of times when it's first introduced to new companies or environments, specifically, like maritime, we also see it in the OR room with doctors and nurses. I think the key is education of human factors; improving communication up and down the hierarchy in a crew environment is one example. 60 to 80% of all incidents and accidents, industry wide are caused by human influence; however, 60 to 80% of most of the training dollars are spent on technical training. So there's got to be more of a balance to reduce incidents and accidents. So vessel operators, owners and safety managers, as well as regulators must all work in unison to assist in making the workplace safer and more efficient. And I think by focusing on the human factors, rather than the technical, we have to have technical skills, but I think there's been an exclusion of learning about human factors and their dramatic effects on safety.

Kait Borsay:

That's a really good point, Patrick, because it's all very well having a sterile environment. But actually, if the crew aren't empowered enough to be able to relay anything that concerns them, or they feel like they can't approach the captain, that's when it starts to fail, doesn't it....everyone needs to feel like they can play their part effectively?

Patrick Browne:

That's absolutely correct. You could have like on the on the tugboat operations, he could have a brand new green deckhand on the front of the of the tow 800 feet in front of where the captain is, and he could be a valuable asset to the captain who needs as much information as he can to make the best decisions possible. So if he's not empowered, or told that it's okay for him to speak up, then you lose that asset.

Kait Borsay:

Jim, was there any resistance from crews when you started to implement the sterile wheelhouse?

Jim Guidry:

Well, I think they had the same concerns that I did. And that is how does an aeroplane pilot and the things that he does to fly and land and aircraft have anything to do with a mariner, and I think as they saw it used - and we do use this in our simulator school where we run people through simulations - they began to actually embrace it pretty quickly because they saw the power of declaring sterile wheelhouse.

Kait Borsay:

Your company operates on the Mississippi, Jim. Does that also pose unique questions in this regard?

Jim Guidry:

The Mississippi River is an incredible artery that runs through the United States, but it has some complications in the fact that it flows very heavily from north to south. And that flow makes navigation very difficult at times. And I think the other real complication with the Mississippi River is as it floods and withdraws, it changes the course in the shape of the river all the time. So you may go up this path today, but tomorrow, you have to take a completely different path or track to accomplish navigation in a river that's changing every day. So that requires quite a bit of focus and attention and planning as well.

Kait Borsay:

So there are then key differences, Patrick, between working on the Mississippi River for example, and working in the wider oceans.

Patrick Browne:

I can see the similarity with blue water where they go for hours and days on end with not too much happening apart from possibly weather or mechanical problems. So we have that same issue flying international flights for 14, 16 hours, as opposed to domestic flights, which are more similar to the brown water operations, but the sterile wheelhouse applies, not only when we're taking off or landing, but also for weather, and instances that are distractions, like other aircraft that we need to identify. And I'm sure the same goes for blue water, as opposed to brown water, there's a lot more traffic with, with the brown water operations to observe and avoid.

Kait Borsay:

So Patrick's talked about the hierarchy issues in aviation when this was first brought in, has that been an issue with maritime too, Jim?

Jim Guidry:

Well, I think that's an interesting topic, because the maritime industry has long been one of the captain is the ultimate authority and 'thou shalt not question thy Captain', but we're seeing the need for that to change. And actually sterile wheelhouse is helping that change, because it requires people to speak up, and it requires the Master to listen. So we're seeing some changes in that. But we fund significant issues when that hierarchy is so strong, and people are scared to bring up issues or concerns to the Master.

Kait Borsay:

How do you advise someone in that situation? Or what kind of training do you put into place to try and stop that from happening?

Jim Guidry:

Well, we've been doing a lot of awareness training about this very topic, and that it's the only industry where the licence is actually deemed master. So he's master of his vessel, which has some connotations to it that aren't friendly. And we've seen the need to change that. And while you need someone who takes absolute authority, you need them to listen to all of the crew and understand the concerns of everyone aboard. As in Patrick's example of an airline pilot, as a passenger who brought something up to the stewardess, you have to be aware that information can come from any source and needs to be respected.

Kait Borsay:

Jim, to finish with you, this is about giving humans the best environment to make the best judgments, right?

Jim Guidry:

Yes. And if you give the human being a framework to work in, that allows them to excel, I think they will choose it every time. And that's what we've seen with sterile wheelhouse that while when you first hear it, you're thinking, I don't know how that can help me, as you see things that happen to you like that phone ringing incident at the wrong time, can completely take your mind off the task that you're doing. And it could also be somebody just coming up and saying, 'Wow, it's really raining out here'. Well, that's not very helpful to someone who's been navigating in the rain for several minutes. And he knows that it's raining. But in that moment, we stopped thinking about what we're doing and we think 'what a what a really stupid comment you've just made!'. It's not simply about reducing distractions, it's about increasing communications, about things that are important to the task at hand. And oftentimes, the crew will disengage because the pilot is engaged and the pilot is the local expert. So sterile wheelhouse, actually, it denies you the ability to talk about things you shouldn't. But it requires you to talk about things you should and about things like how the wind will impact the ship because it's a ship I've sailed on for years, and the pilot may be new to that ship. So I would say that a reduction of distraction, and an increase in communication would probably be helpful in every event.

Kait Borsay:

Well thank you both very much for joining us on this episode of Alongside, I found it fascinating listening to both of you - the voice you've just said there is Jim Guidry, he's EVP of Vessel Operations at Kirby Corporation. And we've also been speaking to Patrick Browne, founder of Flightdeck Safety Initiatives. Join us next time on Alongside where we continue to explore key topics affecting the maritime industry and those who are part of it. Click subscribe on this podcast to ensure you don't miss an episode. Thank you again to both of our guests. From me Kait Borsay thank you for listening

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