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Boxing and Dancing

April 28, 2021

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In this episode, Dr Kristine Storkensen from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and I discuss our concerns about the increased level of audits that run counter to the intention of managing safety. Kristine suggests that we as a society may gain by reconsidering our approach to audits i.e., through decreased auditability and increased value of un-auditable activities. To unlock the full potential for safety management with practical procedures, thus, may require an audit implosion. Regulators, companies, and operational personnel may benefit by safety measures that are less concerned with auditability and more focused on the safety itself.

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Nippin Anand [00:00:44] Welcome to another episode of Embracing Differences with me Nippin Anand. This podcast series is meant to bring you different perspectives and concepts in safety. The idea really is to create space for thinking and reflection, not to reinforce any grand theories or our prior knowledge on a subject. The aim is to learn and grow, not to remain stagnant. And of course, as I keep saying there is no reason for you to believe me or any so-called expert but keep an open mind and be prepared to challenge your beliefs if you truly want to learn more than what you knew yesterday.

Some years ago I wrote an article called ‘boxing and dancing’ where I started with the clip that I played at the start of this podcast. Yes, give these auditors what they are looking for – some paint cans to satisfy their ego. So everything is kept in balance. They get to issue a non-conformance and I know I can fix the problem. Because these auditors give me a hard time every time they come onboard, I have found a way to keep them entertained without ruffling too many feathers – Boxing and Dancing.

At that time it almost felt like a joke to me and to many who read the article. But as time passed, and I did more and more audits, I started making meaning of my work. And I began to see the dance between power and knowledge more clearly.

Auditors have the power to issue non-conformances but they never engage with the auditees who have the knowledge of the local context. Likewise, the auditees have the in-depth understanding of how stuff works on the ground level, but they have no influence to change anything.

There’s a book waiting to be written on this topic but for now allow me to welcome my guest and someone whose work has inspired me for many years – Dr Kristine Storkersen. Let’s ask Kristine what she makes of this power struggle. It’s going to a lot of fun and learning!

Nippin Anand [00:03:12] What did you think, Kristine?

Kristine Storkersen [00:03:16] I do, I need to laugh. It’s so recognizable from the seafarers and from how things happen at the vessels. And it’s so sad at the same time, how did we end up putting out paint cans for an auditor? It’s insane. So, I’m thinking about how our research have contributed in enlightening are kind of opening up that black box of insane safety work and trying to understand how it became like that.

Nippin Anand [00:03:51] Great. And this is exactly what I want to explore with you today. So even before we did that, Kristine, tell me a bit about yourself, who you are, what do you do? And what inspired you to take this journey?

Kristine Storkersen [00:04:09] Well, thank you, I’m a sociologist, and I am from the northern part of Norway. So, I grew up with the sea, seafaring and vessels and many in my family in that industry. Out of coincidence, I started working in this great place called NTNU Social research, where we have lots of different research projects in lots of different industries. But also, we have this great ‘Safety at sea’ project for one oil company in Norway. And I saw that my background from where I grew up, and my background from sociology actually could contribute in understanding how to make a workspace safer, or at least to understand how things are as they are on vessels today.

[00:05:03] So, I must thank both my family and my coworkers here at NTNU, where I work, almost 20 years after. A lot of different research projects led me to understand that it was so much to do with safety management, it’s so many puzzles, it’s so much we don’t know how. Like the clip you showed from Ronald, the auditor and his captain. It’s two parallel worlds, you can see that audits and safety management can be a part of a formal world. And then you have the real world, so to say, how we do work. This has been pointed out in safety research for decades. But still, it’s kind of a puzzle of how it became like that and how to do something about it.

Nippin Anand [00:06:03] So tell me in a nutshell. What was your research all about?

Kristine Storkersen [00:06:10] Well, if we focus on my PhD and the work I’ve done with safety management at sea, it was actually to understand the research field of safety at sea -How it is and how to improve it? And then I understood that the ISM code, safety management regulation at sea is a key component here and that most seafarers have something negative to say about it. I was interested in understanding what is this safety management code? This huge paper documentation regulations that everyone is talking about, and that and they have visited it. I thought, okay, it’s about eight pages of A4 standard pages of text that’s mainly says, at least most important first part says, well, your shipping operators are responsible for the safety of their vessels, and they should manage in a way that safety is preserved on their vessels in a way that safety is handled in their operations. This is not what we see, when we get on the vessel with or not what we hear.

[00:07:45] They are two parallel worlds, you have safety management on one side, and that’s the ISM code and then you have the real work, save work on the other side. So, my PhD was then kind of narrowed down and focused on understanding how is the ISM code translated at the regulator side, at the shipping company and the vessel side. What I saw was that you have this what research is, is talking about this, you have a rule of red tape, you have prison derealization, and safety clutter. And this might be because, or it’s connected to the ISM code. But then it seems to run counter to the objective of safety, which is the objective of the ISM code. Of course, it might be that some of your listeners do not know about the ISM code.

[00:08:46] It is quite simple function based real work that says you should make a safety management system. It is international in the maritime industry, because it’s made by the IMO, the International Maritime Organization and it’s enforced by the different flag states. Each company should have that ISM certificate or document, and each vessel should have it. So, a part of the ISM code is also about how to verify and get approved to have this ISM certificate to make it simple.

Some in the safety research would say that this is an example of ‘work as imagined’ versus ‘work as done’ because you have the safety management systems that are made by people on shore, and they can imagine how work is done. So, they try to make procedures on how to do work. But then you have work is done, which is the real work, which is not fitting to the procedures or ways. But this is kind of too simple, because we now have so many shipping companies that actually try to simplify the try to make the procedures doable and practical and simple. But yet they fail all the time. It’s the kind of the need to add and add and add new procedures.

Nippin Anand [00:10:21] You being a sociologist, I’m really interested in is that, you know, you touched upon the idea of the gap between work is done and work as imagined. I think there’s a lot of safety research today that is pointing towards those gaps. I think what I’m what I’m really interested to hear from you, Kristine is as a sociologist, coming from such a wide perspective. I would like to understand from you why that gap exists in the first place? We don’t get to understand that very well in the literature today that we have.

Kristine Storkersen [00:10:54] Yeah, I agree. And, and, as I said, I think it’s a simplification that sometimes it that having that vocabulary and that theory has been useful. But also, I think that we too often simplify too much when we just say, Okay then is work as imagine there and this work is done. There will always be a gap. And it’s just because someone is sitting at the office and someone else is doing the real job. But to me, I will say that it’s usually not that simple because the people in the office, most of them actually do try to understand what’s happening, and try to get into the procedures that you should have some flexibility, there will always be variability in the operations, that you never want to standardize everything, at least many shipping companies and a lot of office and safety workers try to get in those discretionary spaces, that kind of discretionary space into the procedures. So, but so I what I find most interesting and what we should take into account when we use those terms, is that when the procedures get in a different way than what the practice is often because of a lot of other constraints and other expectations, to the shipping companies or to the procedures and to the certification. So, I would say about the work as imagined and work as done debate that is often it precludes or messes up the debate because it seems so simple, when it’s not.

Nippin Anand [00:12:45] Great and great point and what he you said that there are there are good reasons for that. Give us some examples of why we ended up in that situation.

Kristine Stokersen [00:12:56] Yeah, my research shows that when you have a safety management system, that ISM code, say you says that you should developer’s safety management system with procedures for your work and important operations. But also, you have other types of guidelines or standards, or regulations, and even trends in society. You should have and demonstrate accountability, as a company, we were company needs to show that they have control over all the work that is done that you don’t take unnecessary risks.

[00:13:39] So, we as a society have developed so many routines or expectations from the company leaving them with no or almost no other options then to document as much as possible, and to do the documentation in a way that it’s recognizable. For auditors, that are going to come and certify or verify that they have followed certain rules and even private certifications. And all this is kind of put into the safety management system and led upon the seafarers. In in all the documentation is of course, upon the seafarers.

Nippin Anand [00:14:20] Isn’t that interesting, Kristine? Because today we have a ship that is stuck in the Suez Canal, a huge ship. The societal responses that this is a black swan. And this is a completely unimagined situation and how the hell did we get into this situation? Have we lost control of these big mega islands that we are floating on? And one wonders when you have is it really unimaginable? Is it something that that that is so difficult to comprehend? When you talk to an average seafarer and their struggles of going through it on a daily basis, one could say that this was not a question of if, it was a question of when this would happen. You’re absolutely right in what you said that a lot of controls that that the companies are putting is really to overcome that anxiety of the society that you cannot have these mega size ships, these dangerous things floating on the water if you do not have appropriate controls.

So, you end up putting controls that are a response to the society’s anxiety, the society’s needs, which may or may not necessarily correspond to the actual problems. Those actual problems can all can be foreseen from inside from the seafarers from the managers. Yet, it is so difficult to turn back to the society and say they cannot be controlled. So here you are stuck between what you can control and what you can’t control, what you can say or what you can’t they say to the outside society, isn’t it?

Kristine Stokensen [00:15:58] Yeah. And that is, and then we start inventing controllable tasks, documentable tasks, auditable tasks. So, to demonstrate that we are in control with that country is in control over their industry, that shipping company is in control over their vessels, that a Captain perhaps is in control of his seafarers. And then the only way to show that we are in control is to document it isn’t that strange? Then we suddenly think that now it’s documented that you can see it in this Excel sheet, or black and white, it’s on paper, and then we can say, they say, they’re in control, and then we just have to believe it. But we have to have it on paper or documented. And then, of course, you need to invent tasks, and goals, and answer those goals with tasks that are documented. So instead of saying, Oh, it’s really difficult to understand how we should prevent those big accidents, then we just say, we know what the accidents are, or will be and to prevent it, we will do this, and this and this. And here, you can say that we have this system, and you can come check it.

[00:17:32] So, what I’ve been writing about lately is, together with my great coworkers, is that the shipping companies are actually we’ve been studying several businesses, so the managers, they will be or have to be kind of insecure, because the reality is so complex, and they need to demonstrate that it’s not. So, it’s actually impossible to know exactly what to do. And it’s impossible to have that really correct measures. So, you just have to keep on adding measures and keep on adding tasks to demonstrate that you are in control and that if something happens, and the media, God forbid calls, then you will be able to show that you have done what you could. So, this managerial insecurity and, and the demands for liability and control drives the safety management systems drives the procedures to be and the documentation demands to be so large, and perhaps ill-fitting because it’s not necessarily directed directly at your job. This creates this kind of parallel universe of safety management systems as a parallel to the real work that’s done.

[00:19:09] I’ve been trying to understand what can we do about it then, because a lot of ship owners and other type of companies have tried to simplify their safety management systems, and try to kind of be honest in a way of saying that we don’t know how to control everything, but we know how to control this and let’s keep it like that. But a lot of them have been getting this audit and auditors saying well, this is not fitting with the guidelines that we have. I mean, it may be fitting with intentions with the guidelines, it might be fitting with the intentions of the ISM code for instance, but still we have this sheet of different types of things you should address and you haven’t addressed everything. So, I suggest you add it right away or you will get non-conformities.

[00:20:04] So that is why I say that it has been or Michael Powell said it has been an audit explosion. And we’ve seen it in shipping. And I say that we need this audit implosion. Because if we do audits in a different way, perhaps we could actually try to reduce the documentation demands, or try to do the documentation in another way. And perhaps then we could in some way, try to merge the two parallel worlds, instead of having real work and saved management or, as our coworkers in Australia, in this safety Innovation lab, say that you have safety work, which is the formal part and safety of work, which will be something different, perhaps we can merge that if we address how audits are performed, and how. So, Ronald doesn’t have to put those paint cans to make the auditor happy, because auditor just need to find something.

Nippin Anand [00:21:09] So, it’s not really the issue of control. But it’s the illusion of control that most of us are looking for. So that managerial instinct that he talked about. It’s funny you say that because the term manager actually comes from the Latin term manus, which is to make the horse run at a particular pace. So, it’s all about control. I completely recognize what you’re saying about the managerial instinct, too. But I think there’s a lot in what you said they use; you use the word. So, there’s two more things you said? Well, one was that the increasing level of bureaucracy that the increasing level of paperwork, and you made a very wonderful point to say, we are adding more procedures, nobody really goes and says, Let’s take two procedures out from the system. Everyone is just adding more procedures to it. But I think the other thing that is you said which was equally interesting was and you use the word ill-fitting is that it that the system that you create, has become misaligned with its purpose.

[00:22:06] And it’s become misaligned to the extent that it’s become disconnected with a purpose. And, and I think you’re absolutely right, because where we end up in this situation is with that Ronald and the safety inspector that we started off from that Ronald is giving to the safety inspector what he or she is looking for, and to satisfy their needs and their checklists and their goals and their objectives. But Ronald is doing something completely different in his work. So, there are two realities here. The auditors’ reality and the worker’s reality and the two have become so distant. And the only time the two really aligned with each other is when a big accident happens. And we go and look into the system into the broken system. The interesting bit, Kristine, to me is that even at that stage, you are so beautifully able, to maintain the distance between the two realities.

[00:23:00] I keep going back to the Wakashio example of the ship that went aground. Where you see the reality where a captain is actually struggling to maintain the safe distance from the land, but he’s also trying to get his crew to speak on the phone. So, in a way, he has taken the conflict on him that conflict between the wellbeing of people and safety of navigation. But that conflict is not visible to the auditor, and it’s not visible to the office. The only time that conflict is visible is when an accident happens, but how the society has been so beautifully able to still maintain that, that that gap between the two realities. I think that’s fascinating, that we continue to live with that gap, irrespective of whether it’s normal work, or it’s an accident.

Kristine Stokensen [00:23:51] I think it’s very interesting, and I have a coworker who very focused on trust is the key word here, we have lost trust, or at least we’re in Norway, we are really proud of the trust we have. But still, it’s not much to be proud of, because we kind of try to get as much from the threats as possible. Because to show that we’re in control, it’s not possible to just say, well, I trust my employees, and now that the seafarers will do what they are supposed to do, and now that the company owner is doing everything in her that she can to, to keep the, the operations safe.

[00:24:38] But we, as a society, in all industries, we can go into this, this illusion of not wanting to trust, if it’s not documented, and, and me and my coworkers have been talking a lot about this is giving many of the safety management tasks and also other tasks in organizations can be called bullshit tasks. It’s not that you have all that the work of all or groups of is bullshit work, but most working are professionals have some kind of bullshit tasks, and mostly they are related to safety management. We have seen this in so many industries, and everyone we talked to about this is, is recognizing this. So, it’s not only the safety management in maritime, but it is an entire society that we have gone away from trusts, or maybe the trust wasn’t there in the first place. But still it’s just so ironic that we think that we can trust that someone has control when it’s documented. But then it creates this, this parallel work this audit loop audit loops, when we create tasks, just because they are auditable. But just because to get approved in some way. Why just don’t skip that part, when we need trust. And we know we’re not in control, even though it’s documented. We still need trust. Why just don’t skip their bullshit tasks in the part one that doesn’t give anything to anyone except from extra work and illusions of control.

Nippin Anand [00:26:35] I wanted to talk to you about a book that I’m reading right now. It’s called Bullshit Jobs by David Graeber. He was he is the inspiration of the word bullshit tasks.

Kristine Storkersen [00:26:44] Yeah, he is the inspiration for the word ‘bullshit tasks’ but I just want to emphasize that I still haven’t talked with anyone who finds their entire job bullshit, but that almost everyone I talked to find parts of their job, or some tasks, like produce it?

Nippin Anand [00:27:05] Well, I did for many years.

Kristine Storkersen [00:27:08] David Graeber does have so many interesting points. I do think that we should listen to the kind of the seriousness in what he described and that we could we can learn something. So, we need to get an audit implosion, we perhaps need to add trust, and we need to take away the bullshit task, I think.

Nippin Anand [00:27:37] Yes. And I would like you to talk to me a little bit about what kind of trust are we talking about? This trust is a very abstract term.

Kristine Storkersen [00:27:48] Even though I am a sociologist, I’m not the right person. I’m not an expert in trust. But I do see that most people do trust professionals around them, to be professional, to have knowledge about their work, to take the right to make the right decisions, to have a knowledge and some kind of information that it needs to do the right quality work. And most of us even if we look at health personnel or if we look at school teachers. We, do trust them to do the right job, or do a good job. And we do understand that right now, they usually don’t have time because they have so much or that was too extreme, but they have a lot of documentation, and they have a lot of bullshit tasks to spend that valuable working hours on.

[00:28:52] So, I imagine that because we do have that trust in their professional judgment, so why Just don’t let them have the time to do it. One thing is that perhaps technology can help us because if we look at the safety management regulations, they usually say that you should have precise procedures and you should have you should do work in a way that’s safe, and it should be verified. But perhaps about also we are quite monitored in our work and seafarers especially monitored in so many ways in so many ways, like automatic logs of engines and computers and dead man alarms and all the reporting they need to do to save see that then such. Why just don’t use that information and say that as well, your job is already documented?

[00:30:10] I don’t think that all procedures are bad, I really think that safety management can be a good and formal safety management tool can be a good thing that you and my studies have shown also that it’s really good in a lot of ways that you get routines, and you get knowledge and time to think about doing your job safely and time to discuss it, that’s really important to learn. But when you get so much to document and so much to report, then you lose much of the good things. So why don’t let the machines do the documentation, when at least when there are machines already doing documentation because now it’s so much double reporting going on.

[00:30:59] But that would be like a not a very satisfying part of audit implosion, but it would make more space for actual real safe work in a person’s professional life. That could be a part of audit implosion. Also, we could have a new audit practices, that could be another way to reduce procedurlization and to have an audit, implosion, and to increase trust. If we said that instead of having this system revisions of auditors only looking at the systems or the documentation, or auditors in Ronald’s case, only looking at some things on the list that’s not necessarily the most important things on the vessel. Why don’t we try to talk with the auditors and the regulators and understand how can we, in practical and doable way look at what is important in in the jobs that people are doing.

[00:32:08] That would be one also kind of building the bridge between the trust and how audits are done today. But I do think that it would have been really interesting to see what happens if we dropped the audits completely. If we said that we have this regulation, and it is a kind of self-regulation on the companies because it says that the company is responsible and it says that they should do this and that but still it’s not self-regulation now because someone is getting, they’re checking what they did. What documented that they did? So, what it wouldn’t be a great experiment to just see what happened if we took away the audits, could we and we would say that okay, we would trust you. We need to trust you and we trust you do things.

[00:32:57] Perhaps we would learn something. Perhaps safety management would could be done. In a way that had more to do with their real work, and there’s work that is safe. So, I’m not sure is it possible, at least when I’ve talked with classification companies and regulators, they are quite tempted and interested in thinking along those sides. But I’m not sure how we could start creating that movement.

Nippin Anand [00:33:32] There’s lots to think about what you just said. But also, I mean from what I have been my own research and thinking has been pointing towards this is this whole idea of trying to understand the dynamics between power and knowledge? And I think that’s the bit I find most interesting in this whole audit game. Is that someone? Or I say there is an institution out there that believes that it can control the, the risk. What we do is that we have auditors who, who legitimize this control who embody this control this power, if you want to put it this way. So, I think we have turned this whole equation into a power versus knowledge game. So certain people have the power to do certain things like go and do an audit beside what is can conferment and what is non-conformance which by the way is extremely, very subjective.

[00:34:29] There is no such thing like conformance and non-conformance. It’s all negotiation throughout all the way. And then there is the other side, which is so knowledgeable knows everything, but has very little power to actually do something about that knowledge. So why don’t we create that equation between power and knowledge? And I think, in that sense, it proves very helpful. One thing I’ve been very vocal about throughout is that in my career and my research is that, why don’t we turn it from a power versus knowledge game towards a learning experience, so that everyone actually gains something out of it, because you have many auditors whose experiences have become outdated.

[00:35:17] There are some auditors or there are lots of auditors and inspectors who are very new to the profession. And then there is a vast uncertainty, you know, but always stays ahead of what regulations and, and standards can actually imagine, let alone enforce. So, there’s a huge opportunity for learning from every point of view. But are we actually seeing the potential? And by combining power with knowledge, you know, that, that we actually create those collaborative opportunities between the auditor and the auditee that no one really sees the other person as a threat. And nobody really sees them? this as an opportunity to feed someone’s ego, it becomes a more collaborative exercise. It’s much more fun, more learning. I don’t know what your thoughts are on that, Kristine?

Kristine Storkersen [00:36:08] Well, I think it’s very interesting. And also I get to, I get an urge to state that, I guess, both you and me, we, at least, I think that, of course, some things should be audited and regulated. We wish perhaps, I mean, it’s really important to set the standards on the technical part, and, of course, also on the safety management, but the, the knowledge and the learning really should be an associate, as a sociologist, I’m grateful that people are thinking about safety management, and when they are making regulations and thinking that you can have some standard and increase standards. But also, it’s there that the controls or the inspections are really difficult, because it’s so difficult to observe that safety is managed in the right way.

[00:37:05] It’s always there, we also need the real learning and, and the real knowledge. So, as you said, it will always be trust and its always discretionary space, because even though we try now with the classification companies and in the inspections, they it’s there will always be with let’s try to standardize everything, but it’s not possible. So, there will always be a room for discretion. And mostly that is a good thing. But still says that have some trust, and that there will always be some trust? So why are we fooling ourselves to think that we don’t have trust and that it’s possible to do something in black and white? And that creates, as you have been writing about and as you said that these environments have a lot of contradictions and no learning. So yeah, about us. I can’t imagine exactly how to do that. Do you have thoughts on how to create this learning environment through regulation? I do think that the ISM creates a space for it. It’s just that we don’t need to change regulation, we need to change practices. So let me hear what your thoughts are.

Nippin Anand [00:38:30] That’s a very good question but very difficult question especially the second one in fact. But I think one of the things that we find most of times happens is that we are all shaped by or influenced by our goals and objectives you know what is it that the goals that we have been set against and I’ll tell you that when I was an auditor. It’s almost you live in two worlds. One world where you believe that you must do what is the right thing to do so and the other word is the social world that shapes your view about what is that right or wrong thing so there’s always a conflict between the two so when I first became an auditor I had something deep very deep inside me but halfway down the audit within the first four hours if I don’t find a non-conformance, I would be very happy about it that actually things are working in practice I’m getting some good interaction there’s some good learning happening here. But something keeps bothering you in the back is that how do you legitimize your position as an auditor that you found nothing out of order everything was perfect and if you did, there was no reason to qualify to the nonconformance because it you know that threshold is very subjective but what is non confirming and what is just below non-conforming.

[00:40:08] Its a qualitative world and then what about the shipping company how would that react to that non-conforming. So, you’re constantly fighting that identity you know you are in a very fluid identity as an auditor on the one hand you want to issue non-conformance to save your face, to save your profession on the other hand it’s very hard for you to justify that deep in your heart that it’s quite OK. So, how do you live with that contradiction? I think one of the things that I’ve always felt useful is that as an organization you can actually support this process very well by it because if the goal of the audit is the is to improve the system, is to improve the performance of the system. So why don’t we come up with a slightly different goal now where we acknowledge the tension between power and knowledge and that way, we do that is that you as an auditor have the power but you also need to have the knowledge so why don’t you go on board and come back with two new things that you didn’t know until the day of the audit?

[00:41:09] That really helps in addressing the communication between power and knowledge but you took a little bit different approach to it now you acknowledge that and you create that space, you create that environment where learning happens on both ends so now this auditor becomes little bit more humble little bit more curious wanting to really understand the things because that’s what shapes his or her goals not the nonconformance is that the issue but what did they learn from this experience that’s one way of looking at it in my view.

Kristine Storkersen [00:41:48] This is really interesting and intriguing. But when it comes to the system revisions, do you think it will be possible to have that kind of goal for a system revision and that would that improve how things are documented? Because I really would like and I think also seafarers really would like to reduce the documentation.

Nippin Anand [00:42:14] So when we say system review and it’s a very interesting word. So, what is a system review? Do we really understand the system? What is the intent of the system? Who are the different stakeholders in the system? What are their need? What are their goals? What are the conflicts in the system? So, unless we understand that, we will never be able to review and improve the system and the trouble with most of the audits and inspections is that they take a very fragmented approach fragmented in the sense that they go straight after one goal which is improved safety you cannot improve safety without understanding how the system works or you cannot review and improve the system without knowing what assist so this is where I find the work of Greg Smith is intriguing but also the work of Andrew Hopkins where he talks about mindful compliance. So, what you’re trying to do is an auditor is constantly trying to understand how the system operates and I know it’s a very difficult thing for many inexperienced auditors or even experienced people but one way to achieve that is to listen to different sides and really try to understand different sides, understand the dependencies in the system. Understand that what is the function of a container ship it is meant to start from one point and end at another point and deliver cargo on time. What are the difficulties that it disrupts the whole value chain?

[00:43:46] If you pay attention to the system, what is the system intended to do, the review of the system more or less will come to a point where procedures start to connect with the purpose the procedure start to serve the purpose and this is a very interesting situation because instead of adding two more checks in the system you might end up in a situation where you start to remove those extra checks that are not adding value not adding safety you call them bullshit task and that’s exactly what they are isn’t it ?

Kristine Storkersen [00:44:16] But I also tried to imagine. We know now that you have a lot of audits and that is about just checking things on the list and that is not about understanding the goal but if we then could make the auditors have that approached understand the goal understand the system how it works how it is working if it’s working as intended on the particular vessel with a particular tasks in operations then we also perhaps could get quality I mean instead of getting less quality from the others we could get more quality and assistance from the audits ’cause then also the shipping companies would not be as tempted to buy those ill-fitting systems that they or in some sectors now do that they just buy a system that you they know it’s going to get approved and then you perhaps could get into morphology in the procedures still I’m scared. I really would like to be positive but I am skeptical about if we will manage to get away from the other expectations from society as I started with. It’s not just by some code that’s going to be or other maritime regulations that you go you need to comply with you also need to comply with specific rules from other parts of society and also these expectations.

[00:46:14] That is why it’s such a huge job and why it’s so important to talk about this decision and the societies expectations about trust and control ’cause matter how much we do through I am audits we will still have those expectations but it could be really of a good way to start if we know enough auditors and get to have really discussions with others and regulators about having those types of goals, I guess a lot of them would really now we could change the world one step at a time.

Nippin Anand [00:47:01] Frankly I don’t know the answer to that because that is a very difficult question to answer I have tried many times but I failed. It’s how do you create trust between the management and the professionals, it’s not an easy one. I don’t know, I’m at loss here but the question that you asked is a difficult one.

Kristine Storkersen[00:47:30] It would just fit with your podcasts ’cause we need to be open and curious and ask those hard questions and I do think that the more we talk about this the more we get enough people interested in the subject because so many of us experience it if we weren’t sure or if we work at it, it’s so many of those nonsense safety clutter that we need to do so just by reflecting about it. Perhaps could do something but we need to understand that complex web and that but do you think audits are the place to start and let us say follow Nippin and Kristine’s recommendations about addressing that power and knowledge to learn and to perhaps create some audits implosion, reduce at least the parts of the audits and then reduce documentation.

Nippin Anand [00:48:45] I really like what you said that we can’t solve all our problems today but at least we can talk about them.

What did you make of this discussion?

I am very curious to hear your views. I have struggled to find much meaning in audits – not because of the underlying philosophy of the auding framework but because how well intentioned audits have become so disconnected with practice.

I once issued a positive observation (horrible term by the way but I still used it) to a shipping company to bring to their attention how the crew were managing the last-minute changes to the ship schedule on a short notice. The company safety manager called me and asked me to remove this observation from their system because it added no value to the company. On the contrary, it would lead to more questions from their clients when they saw one more ‘observation’. So please no observations Mr auditor. If you don’t have a non-conformance or a negative observation, please leave me alone. Please don’t increase my paperwork. What a sorry state of affairs when a window of opportunity is lost to understand how the company copes with uncertainty on the frontline. It’s another thing to say that if I turned it into a negative non-conformance it would leave a bad taste and a sour relationship. Either ways, do you realize how meaningless KPIs are keeping us at distance from all the operational learning and feedback?

When ships start to go aground because of meaningless paperwork and disconnected bureaucracy, it’s time to think and reflect upon what Kristine beautifully describes as the ‘audit implosion’.

Maybe it’s time to think about ways to turn this meaningless boxing and dancing exercise of first placing and then clearing paint cans to satisfy our egos into meaningful dialogue and discussions. So that both the auditor and the auditees learn something new from this exercise -something they did not know until the time they started the audit.

I leave you with some thoughts.

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