Author's note: as almost always, there's a lot of tongue-in-cheek here. Don't quote me. I hyperbolize, theorize, simonize and satirize. If you don't like it or are looking for deeper meaning, go away and get an I ching or study Kaballah and other forms of masturbation or something.
Seriously, it sucks that I have to write a disclaimer just because I'm trying to teach someone's grandmother to suck eggs.
* * * * *
One of the absolutely European (In the derogatory, shift blame downhill sense of the word) class modules that all sailors have to take now is the official STCW class on Personal Safety and Social Responsibility. (PSSR. It’s even got an acronym).
This is actually a thing. I’m not joking. Well, the whole thing’s a fucking joke, but you get the idea. This is actually no shit.
PSSR is a class that informs you, among other things, that accidents, injuries, your deportment and anything that happens that the ship, employer or insurer doesn’t like is your fault and you should have known better. This includes acts of God and accidents, which, despite being Acts of God and accidents, are now the fault of the victim, and you should be ashamed of yourself.
Remember, it takes just a few muscles to smile, but loyal employees use ALL their muscles to support the company.
THAT is a very STCW/ISM/maritime safety culture statement. It isn’t out there as policy…yet.
The large and robust parasitic training industry that has been foisted on mariners has resulted in less accidents and increased safety… on paper. I can’t say with any authority, but I expect that this comes just as much from administrative handwavium by shoreside staff as it does from mariners. When is a lost time injury not a lost time injury? When the injured employee sits around and stays on payroll until he gets better!
My employer’s Risk Management people have thus far retained the style of a mom-and-pop business when it comes to getting hurt. They do pretty well for us- not too much handwavium, and not too much finger-pointing, and when someone does get injured, they’re consulted in the further prevention portion of an investigation. I’m not complaining, and while it’s a bit of a constant theme, I count myself lucky that I there is so little administrative gamesmanship with my current employer.
After 7 years with my company, I have found that old habits from previous employers die hard. I’m still not used to not getting blamed for anything that happens to me. When I’ve been ill or gotten hurt, being treated like a human being instead of a parasite still feels unnatural, makes me wary.
Before, the couple of times I had to report being ill, it was invariably a shit show, and somehow it would always be my fault, like the time when I was in the Gulf and 4 of us were threatened with being fired because we asked for respirators when ordered to spray paint the unventilated after cofferdam of the ship. When we climbed out of the painted compartment, blind and with severe vertigo, and all passed out in the lazarette of the ship, we got yelled at again. THAT sort of shit isn’t prevented by PSSR classwork, but being able to deflect blame certainly get enhanced.
So, the end result of all this is probably unsurprising. Most shipboard jobs, you get hurt, you DO NOT want to tell anyone about it if it can be avoided. This is exactly the opposite of what our wonderful industry-wide safety culture explicitly teaches, but it is exactly the implicit message of what the safety culture teaches. Why create more trouble for yourself? You’re going to get blamed for anything that happens, anyhow, regardless of fault. You get struck by a falling satellite while on deck, the first thing that you get asked is whether or not you were wearing a hard hat, safety shoes and proper eye protection. You get food poisoning, first thing that happens is someone shows up with a breathalyzer and asks why you chose to eat something if it was going to make you sick. You get my meaning? It’s always your fault.
When you do get hurt, when do you pull the pin and tell someone? On paper, it’s immediate. Failure to report the least injury can be hazardous to your career. Reporting every injury means that you’ll never get anything done. Seriously, we work on boats. It’s a contact sport. You have bruises, abrasions and aches for 80% of the time. Comes with the job.
If you need help, you need help. I’ve asked for it when needed. I’ve muscled through stuff, too. Shipping companies like to pat themselves on the back for what they refer to as a ‘safety culture,’ which can mean something or nothing, depending on what happens when no one is looking.
And that’s another reason I chose the word European as an epithet. Americans get viewed askance for not understanding the nature of sin for much of the rest of the world. That’s how we end up being viewed as Lenny to the rest of the world’s George. The sin, the crime, is not in the action, but in the getting seen or caught in the commission. This logic leaves us scratching our heads. So, most shipping companies, if you have to report being hurt, regardless of what the paper and platitudes say, you’re going to be paying for it one way or another. PSSR is a concept that shifts blame down to the victim. If you got hurt, it’s your fault for allowing yourself to have gotten hurt. That is our current maritime safety culture. There's no shortage of Filipinos, Ukrainians and Indians anyhow.
American companies can get on board with this system because in America Someone gotta pay. Our culture, when there’s an issue, someone has to go under the bus for it. Enough blood appeases the gods. It’s enough of an analogue to the European M.O. that regardless of the source of the shit, it still rolls downhill.
I wonder how the conscientious safety management person deals with this. My experience with past employers, the principal concern is that the ship’s liability insurance folks not get word of it if possible. My current employer, being formerly a mom-and-pop business that tries to retain that model, you get patched up, come back when a doc says you can, there’s maybe a talking to, if there’s an investigation needed you often get to contribute, and if there’s enough potential for a repeat, it gets discussed as a safety issue. As such, people are usually smart enough to ask for help if needed, but not always. I’ve seen a couple guys get yelled at for trying to tough out an injury. Some folks, that’s just what they prefer to do, and will risk being fired over it. I don’t have an answer for that, beyond the vague hope that people will act in their own best interest and in doing so, see the right thing get done for all parties.
In 2003 I did a 90-day job on a ship I had never been on before, and a dude tried to hide his broken forearm for a couple of days, until his hand turned the exact color of a plum and his broken arm and hand swelled up to the dimensions of Popeye’s. He begged us to cover for him, as he had been hurt before, and was afraid of getting let go and blackballed over it.
PSSR doesn’t cover that shit, either. It doesn’t teach how the hell you pay the bills when you can’t find a job.