Bronach Karlsson, a sea cook, likes the responsibility that comes with her job as safety officer and enjoys being involved in creating a safer work environment. ”My upbringing in Northern Ireland has probably affected the person I am today. I have seen too much misery in my life and do everything I can to ensure that nobody is injured.”
For a British-flagged freight and passenger ferry such as Stena Alegra to have a safety officer is far from self-evident. But when Bronach started work in the summer, she quickly understood that the master wanted help with work environment measures. At the moment there are three safety officers: two from the operational crew and Bronach.
”Normally safety officers are not accepted on English ships. On one ship the master just said, ”No, we don’t do that here”, when I asked. But on Alegra there is an entirely different approach, she says.
Bronach has been married for almost 20 years to a Swedish seaman and lives in Nättraby, outside Karlskrona. During her long career at sea she has worked under different flags. Work environment and safety issues have always interested her, but she says that there is a difference in the role of a safety officer on British ships compared with Swedish ships.
”Here on Alegra I have a wider responsibility for the work environment on the whole boat, not only in my department. The master has explicitly asked me to report a situation if I see something is wrong, no matter where on the ship it is, and I do exactly that.”
Bronach tells us that she is never afraid to say her opinion to her colleagues or to the company.
”If I see someone doing something wrong, such as not using the right protective equipment or talking on their mobile phone while loading, I tell them. If it happens again I’ll write a report, and they know it. I am strict and I don’t give up until people listen, but they know that I am just as tough with the company and officers, and they respect me for it. ”I accepted the job of safety officer and I do it 100 %.”
Driven to help
She believes her strong drive is rooted in two things: firstly she loves being at sea, and secondly her shocking experiences from the terror of Northern Ireland, where she worked for several years as ambulance nurse.
”When we went out it was often after bomb attacks, with dead and maimed people. I have scraped away parts of bodies from the street many times and met desperate relatives, and that is something I never want to experience again. In the nineties there were a lot of accidents at sea and I witnessed an accident where six men drowned in oil. It is now 2013, and no one should be seriously injured at their workplace.”
In the beginning of the eighties she left her home town of Newry near the Irish border and moved to the seaport of Warrenpoint. There she met her future husband in 1994. She trained as a cook and has since worked in many different kitchens, both on board and ashore, but prefers to work at sea.
”There is much more stress ashore and safety awareness is not at all like at sea. On board we have safety drills every week and we go through everything, from fire-fighting equipment to how to lash cargo in high seas. Ashore you never train anything and you are badly prepared if something goes wrong.
”But stress is sometimes a problem, even at sea,” she adds. As well as sleep deprivation.
”I usually ask everyone each morning if they slept well. If not I ask them to tell me why. Sometimes they have problems at home which they lie awake and think about and I can’t do much about that, unfortunately. But there could also be a fan outside someone’s cabin that disturbs them, and that can actually be dealt with.
Sleep is really important for doing work safely.
”The right attitude is also required,” says Bronach, and points out that this applies to the whole crew.
”There are so many risks of injury at sea. Everyone must take responsibility and use their common sense, otherwise things can go wrong.”