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.
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.
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.