Attitudes, management and updating of an aging fleet are all areas that the Navy needs to work with. Mikael Wendel, head of the Military Maritime Safety Inspectorate, explains.
Substantial changes are taking place in the armed forces and these are also seen in the Navy. Conscripts are replaced by employed sailors and the old defence against invasion is being turned into an operational defence with increased international service. This has direct consequences for daily activities onboard and places new demands on the work environment and safety. Mikael Wendel, head of the Military Maritime Safety Inspectorate, manages the supervision of the Navy by delegation from the Transport Agency. According to him, work environment activities in the Navy generally function well.
“The Work Environment Act has been applied in the Navy since 1980 and we are trying to meet the requirements for systematic work environment activities. I feel that serious efforts have been made in this area in recent years and this is probably largely due to the Ship Environmental Committee, which drives the issue,” says Michael Wendel.
“But there are also things that need improving,” he says.
“Above all, we need to work more with soft issues, such as attitudes towards gender equality and risk analysis, as well as leadership.” Those who have come under closest scrutiny in this respect are the amphibious and special forces.
How to treat colleagues and subordinates is a perennial issue for discussion in the defence forces. The debate has recently gained new momentum after military service was mothballed last year. In a recent survey from the garrison in Skövde, soldiers complained that they are seen as unintelligent and receive condescending remarks and personal reprimands.
“We need to continue working on this,” says Mikael Wendel. “It is primarily a question of leadership, of having good officers, and we will achieve that through information and training.
Creating a good atmosphere on the ships is important, especially for recruitment purposes. The Armed Forces are now a player in the open labour market and compete for young people with other employers.”
“With employed seamen, there are growing demands for influence and raised standards for the cabins and messes. In the past they often lived in small messes and they ate and slept in the same space, but this will gradually disappear as we build new ships,” says Mikael Wendel.
Family: Wife Diana and son Martin, 15 years old
Home: Terrace house in Björkhagen, Stockholm
Position: Head of the Military Maritime Safety Inspectorate
Background: Naval Academy at Näsby Park, 1975. Civil engineer/shipbuilder at KTH in 1980, officer and marine engineer 1981. Submarine fleet, submarine engineer, project manager for building patrol boats in Singapore and several positions at FMV (The Swedish Defence Material Administration). Head of the Engineering Office for Ships 2003-2004 and head of the Navy’s Ship Inspectorate 2005-2007.
The Swedish battle fleet is getting long in the tooth, and many ships are 30 to 40 years old. Older vessels are being gradually phased out and the living and working environment will improve through this process. In addition, existing ships are being partly rebuilt in order to increase comfort levels. Getting employers to agree to improving the work environment is seldom difficult, according to the maritime safety inspector.
“If a work environment issue comes up it is given priority in the process, and I have not noticed that proposals have been stopped for financial reasons. The Supreme Commander has repeatedly said that the work environment is important, and his word carries a lot of weight. However, there are other factors involved that slow down the process from proposal to reality.”
“When it comes to physical changes, alterations to the ships, the process is far too slow. Material plans are required, then ordering and procurement in accordance with current rules and so on,” says Michael Wendel.
A driving force in the work environment improvement is the Ship Environment Committee (the defence forces’ equivalent to SAN).
“The trade unions put demands on the work environment, and they are justified,” says Mikael Wendel.
The Navy has about 500 vessels, including canoes and rowboats. Around 80 ships are 40 tonnes (approximately 20 gross) or more and many of them are built to patrol the Swedish coast. Now that the Armed Forces are moving towards an operational defence with increased participation in international operations, there are new demands on the ship environment. Overcrowding, lack of privacy and limited training opportunities will be more noticeable in international operations than exercises around Sweden.
“Our corvettes and ships are relatively small and built to be out for a few days at a time in Swedish waters. If we sail down to the warmth of the Gulf of Aden and the Mediterranean and remain there for several weeks, there will be completely different pressures on the ships and crews.”