Christer Sjökvist: Safety officers can draw advantage from each other’s knowledge

The Grand Hotel is not that bad, but he enjoys being at sea most of all. Christer Sjökvist is the bartender on Silja Galaxy and right now he is involved in updating work after re-flagging to Swedish standards.
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The Grand Hotel is not that bad, but he enjoys being at sea most of all. Christer Sjökvist is the bartender on Silja Galaxy and right now he is involved in updating work after re-flagging to Swedish standards.

Christer Sjökvist
Christer Sjökvist
Age: 54
Home: Apartment in Solna, north of Stockholm
Family: Shares apartment with his friend Kicki since 1979
Profession: Bartender on Silja Galaxy
Background: Trainee cook, waiter at hotels, restaurants and onboard Swedish America Line ship Gripsholm. Bartender with Silja Line since 1985. Safety officer since 1997.
The good work environment is important because: it influences everything we do. Not least the final result, which is how our passengers feel about us and the ship. But it is also important because people who are healthy, happy and satisfied do a better job and take less time off sick than those who are dissatisfied.

Many things can be changed and improved. Other things remain as they are. Since the Galaxy’s Estonian flag was replaced by the blue and yellow Swedish flag in the summer of 2008, the crew has worked hard to adapt the interior and procedures to Swedish regulations.
– They say it usually takes about a year to run in a ship, and we are about halfway. We have achieved a lot during this time, and now we can look to the future with some confidence, says Christer Sjökvist, the chief safety officer onboard.
A check has been made in all departments, which has provided a good overview of what needs to be done. Based on systematic work environment management, risks and problem areas have been identified and action plans have been drawn up. Slippery kitchen floors have been replaced, double cabins have become single cabins with their own telephones, and the heavy magnetic catches on fridges have been replaced with mechanisms that are far easier to operate, to name some of the changes that have been made.
– We started almost immediately with systematic work environment management. The captain and I walked around the different departments and looked at the risks together with the personnel. We have also had an acoustic engineer onboard who measured sound levels, and an ergonomist. We have included their viewpoints in the SAM file.
Logistics difficult to improve
But in certain areas it is difficult to find good solutions, above all when it comes to logistics, explains Christer Sjökvist.
– The ship has no container gates, so we have to take onboard all of our goods via the aft ramp. The goods must then be taken to the various departments before departure, and this is extremely stressful since we only have one hour at the quayside.
Christer Sjökvist is among those who earlier worked on the Galaxy’s predecessor on the route between Stockholm and Åbo, Silja Festival. At that time there were between 12 and 15 safety officers. He now hopes that there will soon be 20 of them, since the Galaxy has a considerably larger crew. He does not believe it will be difficult to recruit new work environment enthusiasts.
– When everything is rolling smoothly it is difficult to find new safety officers. But when the situation is in flux, such as now when we have changed ships and things are not as usual, then it is far easier.
On a ship the size of the Galaxy, with enough space for 2,800 passengers, it is impossible for the chief safety officer to have detailed knowledge of conditions in every department.

Silja Galaxy. Photo: Pär-Henrik Sjöström
Silja Galaxy. Photo: Pär-Henrik Sjöström

Christer Sjökvist is more of a coordinator and has regular communication with the other safety officers. He does not feel that there is any competition between the different departments, rather that they draw advantage of each other’s knowledge.
– For example, we have a cleaner who is very keen on checking chemicals and dangerous substances, and she has been around to all the departments to talk about this. I usually encourage safety officers to go on work environment courses as soon as possible and to find their own niche, he says.
Rowdy passengers create problems
Christer Sjökvist works in the upper bar in the nightclub which stretches over two decks. Noise and stress are two large problems for catering personnel, but passengers can also be a big problem.
– Some of the younger passengers really make things difficult and create a bad psychosocial work environment for everybody. It is not good to generalize, but many 18 to 20 year olds behave badly. Either they are just plain selfish and rowdy, or they are on some new sort of drug which makes them aggressive. They are often threatening too, and we are discussing what to do about that.
In general, though, the work environment has improved a lot during Christer Sjökvist’s 30 years at sea. When he signed on as a 19-year-old with the Swedish American Line ship Gripsholm, life onboard was a lot tougher than on modern ships.
– The dishonesty onboard was terrible. For example, you had to guard your silver cutlery, which nobody had warned me about when I started. So when I left for a few moments half the things were gone when I got back – my colleagues had stolen them! But I learned what to do and continued working there on and off for a couple of years.
After serving rich dollar-tourists he went ashore and for almost 10 years and worked at some of Stockholm’s most prestigious restaurants such as the Grand Hotel, Sheraton and Dalarö Skans. But he missed life at sea and since the mid-1980s he has been employed at Silja Line.
– Working at sea is a lifestyle that suits me. It is probably my sense of rootlessness that makes me feel at home onboard, he says.
Linda Sundgren

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