• Friday, May 24, 2024
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The machine and its creator (2)


A research study conducted by Marine Accidents Investigation Bureau, London reveals that only 1 percent of machine failure was discovered during routine inspection. Similarly, environmental impact assessment from a recent study reveals that man’s activities at sea through sound pollution, oil spills, exhaust emissions, sewage dumps, and discharge of hazardous and non-hazardous wastes have serious environmental consequences. It is currently estimated that carbon dioxide emissions from shipping is about 4 to 5 percent of the global total, and estimated by the IMO to rise by up to 72 percent by 2020 if no urgent action is taken.

From the foregoing, it can be seen that man is at the hub of machine failure. He designs, builds operates, trains, repairs, and inspects machines and automated systems which produce a whole set of challenges for the operators. There are other arguments that failure of machines is systemic rather than human.

Several suggestions have been advanced to prevent or reduce machine failure to the lowest level. It has been stated that effective training of engineers and technicians coupled with provision of right tools will solve the problem. Others have opined that planned maintenance schedule needs to be effective and sustained; while some have argued that once fuel test kits are provided, machine failure will be infrequent. Importantly, there are those who strongly believe that engineers need to be prepared to mitigate any risks of failure by carrying out timely repair and inspections. Some opine that if machine components observed show they are worn out beyond acceptable limits, it is logical to surmise that the machinery has exceeded manufacturer’s recommended hours for overhaul. These are all shades of opinion which when singly or collectively espoused could provide the solution to machine failure in the marine environment. However, can a marine organisation and indeed ship owners provide maintenance culture? The response will be affirmative but it needs to be sustained. Herein lies one of the challenges of most ship owners operating in developing nations in order to ensure that machine failure is infrequent.

Maintenance culture here refers to factors as diverse and multifaceted as beliefs, structures, outlook and modes of behaviour to ensure that appropriate actions are taken to repair, inspect, test and calibrate, restore operations of a machine and increase time of availability. All these factors are interwoven and mutually reinforcing. Maintenance culture is an integral part of any ship or organisation and its evaluation should not be seen as attack on any particular department or persons. Indeed, man cannot be absolved of blame when maintenance culture is examined in an organisation. Machine failures in shipping worldwide are exacerbated mostly by neglect of maintenance culture.

Ship owners aspiring to have their maintenance culture sustained in a contemporary era must encourage their personnel to have the following cognitive values: (a) rationality, (b) curiosity, (c) practicality, (d) disposition to mental work, (e) deductive reasoning, (f) intellectualism, (g) inquisitiveness, (h) motivation to learn and to acquire new knowledge, (i) free exchange of ideas, and (j) focus on quality and deep roots in excellence.

Generally, where above characteristics are entrenched, maintenance culture will thrive. The sustenance of maintenance culture must be encouraged by all stakeholders in any organisation. Issues bordering on maintenance culture must not be treated with levity. When maintenance culture is weak, individuals must have either singly or collectively contributed to it through policy inconsistency, misconception of organisational objectives, ignorance of extant regulations and “intelligent guesses” in decision-making without recourse to professional ethics, amongst others. All of these may give rise to machine failure and thus render shipping operations prostrate. As organisations in the marine industry transform, these negative characteristics of man must be discouraged as no individual is larger than the organisation. Instead, all stakeholders should work together, assiduously employing multi-disciplinary approach towards improving and sustaining maintenance culture.

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The attitude of individuals cannot be observed but can be inferred from their behaviour. Poor attitude to work in general and maintenance in particular must be of great concern to all personnel of any organisation. Display of neglect and nonchalant attitude must be discouraged, while those charged with leadership responsibility of maintenance activities should be fair and firm. It is only then that subordinate staff can be consistent towards organisational maintenance goals and objectives. Those in higher levels of organisational structure must also endeavour to understand what the subordinate’s attitude really is. With this understanding, management can proceed to create an environment in which the attitude and associated behaviour are either appropriate to organisational goals or alternatively do not conflict with them. Although no machine component is designed for infinite life, the lifespan of machines could, however, be extended when individuals transform positively. With the display of positive attitude coupled with strict adherence to maintenance procedures and sustenance of maintenance culture, machines will live and ultimately the shipping business will prosper. I wish all seafarers fair wind and following seas.

M.A. Johnson