Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Can’t they all just get along?

A safety review ordered by B. C. Ferries has been delivered and the bottom line seems to be that both management and union need to get along a lot better. That at least seems to be the recurring theme of the Morfitt Report which was released on Monday.

It’s a request that might be easier said than done, at times the two sides at the Ferry Corporation have resembled the battling Ewing and Barnes clans of Dallas fame. Though it would appear that the Ferry Corporation isn’t quite as financially well off as the oil barons were.

The 70 page report, (see a copy of it here) made 41 recommendations, but the main thrust of the deliberations was that the company’s Safety Management System needed to be improved, a point that has been driven home over the last few years with a number of high profile ship board incidents.

B. C. Ferries set forward the safety review after the sinking of the Queen of the North last march, the Morfitt Report is but a start of the much anticipated paper flow on the tragedy off the coast of Hartley Bay, still to come are the results and recommendations of the Transportation Safety Board investigation, a report that is expected to be released this spring.

There are a number of articles detailing the developments from Victoria yesterday,

The Victoria Times Colonist
CBC British Columbia
Vancouver Province
Vancouver Sun
Vancouver Sun (Vaughn Palmer)
Globe and Mail (Mark Hume)

The Daily news had the local reaction to the release of the Morfitt Report on the front page of Tuesday’s paper.

Report says some senior staff failed to buy into company’s safety philosophy
By Leanne Ritchie
The Daily News
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
Pages one and three

A safety review at B. C. Ferries, ordered by the company after one of its passenger vessels sank last spring, recommends the relationship between the corporation and its employees be improved.

The report by former B. C. auditor general George Morfitt released Monday makes 41 recommendations, but primarily stresses the importance of improving the company’s Safety Management System.

In a marine environment, having an effective SMS means that everyone who works on a vessel has a basic understanding of how the vessel operates.

It’s an issue North Coast MLA Gary Coons has brought forward repeatedly.

“I’m glad that B. C. Ferries has accepted the recommendations of the report, but it’s a concern that it’s taken so long for the company to agree this is a problem,” said Coons.

Morfitt’s recommendation is at least the third time B. C. Ferries was warned that its SMS was inadequately followed. Last summer, Coons who is the NDP’s ferry critic, called on B. C. Ferries to put greater emphasis on its SMS. Coons’ call echoed a similar recommendation from former Ferries safety director Darin Bowland. Morfitt, in his review of operational safety at B. C. Ferries, said that “not all senior operating staff ‘bought into’ the SMS.

“When your own director of safety raises the issue, it should be time to take action. It shouldn’t take three tries before the company recognizes a serious problem,” said Coons.

The privately operated B. C. Ferries Services Inc. launched the safety review after the sinking last March of the Queen of the North, a passenger ferry with 101 passengers and crew on board.

The vessel hit an island near Hartley Bay and sank. Two passengers are missing and presumed dead.

A report on the sinking by the Transportation Safety Board is expected to be released this spring.

Coons said the status of the Deas Dock shipyards is a further problem that concerns him.

The shipyards which do a significant portion of refit and repair work on B. C. Ferries vessels, are working on a contract basis.

Coons said if Deas Dock were back as part of B. C. Ferries, the company could ensure that Deas Dock was in compliance with SMS.

“The Queen of Oak Bay crashed into pleasure craft Horseshoe Bay partly because someone at Deas Dock didn’t fully understand how the anchor winch worked,” Coons said.

“With an effective SMS, that kind of basic understanding would be ingrained in everyone who works on the ships. The question I have is what influence will B. C. Ferries have with Deas dock?

“Can they ensure Deas Dock will be in compliance with B. C. Ferries SMS?”
Coons said the report calls on the corporation to find common ground with its workers to reduce tension between the company and the union.

“The report indicates that some near-misses were not reported for fear of discipline,” Coons said.

“That’s not acceptable, workers shouldn’t be afraid for their jobs when they make safety a priority.

However, B. C. Ferries CEO David Hahn said the report by Morfitt concludes overall that B. C. Ferries operates a safe transportation system.

“The company directors, management and staff are highly committed to operational safety, both for the traveling public and for B. C. Ferries personnel,’ says a summary conclusion in Morfitt’s report released by B. C. Ferries.

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