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Towing Safety Management System - Contents

The purpose of writing down the best procedure for a particular operation in a safety management system is to standardize operations in order to minimize human error. Safety management systems (SMS) vary greatly regarding their content, even within the same industry. That’s because it’s up to the company using it, or developing it, to determine which operations should be included. Some regulatory requirements, or industry programs, dictate what topics require policies and procedures, but most provide general headings. For example, the International Safety Management (ISM) Code provides a general outline such as Section 7 – Shipboard Operations. The company is expected to fill in the blanks.

 

Subchapter M is no different. The proposed requirements for the Towing Safety Management System (TSMS) contained in 46 CFR 138.220(c)(2) states, “Procedures must be in place to ensure safety of property, the environment and personnel.” But what procedures? This is where risk assessment comes into play. What are the most dangerous evolutions that occur? How have people been hurt in the past? What caused a spill? For example, if a tugboat company handles lines all day every day, and parting lines pose a real and significant danger to crews, their SMS should contain procedures based upon the line manufacturers’ specifications, to inspect the lines regularly and know when they have become unserviceable.


Even if an auditor or government inspector doesn’t catch these omissions, the courts may. Reportedly, in a recent court decision involving a deckhand being crushed to death in a capstan during a swing maneuver, the vessel was found to be “unseaworthy.” This ruling made the tug owner strictly liable under general maritime law. The reason this determination was made was that the owner failed to adequately implement procedures and guidelines that would have provided the crew the training, skill and knowledge to perform the maneuver safely.


Don’t buy a TSMS off the shelf. Get someone to facilitate the development of one specific for your company and make sure to involve your best captains in doing so.

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