Early in his career, Master Patrik Jönsson realized that safety must come first in all work on board. These days he drives maritime safety and work environment issues at the Transport Agency.
Patrik Jönsson says that all seafarers have two roles. One is their daily work, loading and unloading, cooking, cleaning, navigating or whatever else is required. The second is their work as a cog in the safety organisation on board; it is primarily to prevent incidents, but if an accident should happen, to act in order to minimise injuries and damage. As a newly graduated Master on Finnlines’ Malmö Link, Patrik Jönsson realized this double job that seafarers had and since then he has been working to improve safety culture at sea.
“Getting to grips with the ISM manual and thinking about how to behave, dress, practice and think about safety work was really exciting for me when I was working on board,” he says. Patrik Jönsson is well aware that not all his colleagues share his interest in codes and procedures, but he believes that a lot of this is about attitudes, which can be influenced.
“For my own part, it meant a lot that we had one of the officers on board who appreciated our work and encouraged us. A colleague and I drove security work together and we were pretty good at getting the others on our side,” he says and continues.
“It is so easy to write an ISM which is only theoretical and doesn’t connect with the real world, but then it doesn’t do any good. You have to work with the code in practice for it to be relevant, and it’s important to get everyone on board behind the work.”
Seaman at a mature age
Patrik Jönsson started studying to be a Master when he was almost 30, and quickly discovered that life at sea suited him very well. He enjoyed working intensively for limited periods and then being at home, and he liked the work itself as well.
“I appreciated that the work on board was so concrete and operational. You transport a load from A to B and if there are any problems, you solve them there and then.” But after ten years at sea, with four children and a wife who had recently become head of unit at the Swedish Maritime Administration, he could no longer work on board and have a family life. In October 2013 Patrik Jönsson started as a coordinator in the Swedish Transport Agency, focusing on accident statistics and analysis.
“But I have a tremendous advantage from having worked at sea. Coming up with action plans and finding solutions is almost impossible if you’re not familiar with the ship environment and know the jargon on board.”
One of his most important tasks at the moment, he says, is to get staff on board to write more deviation reports. The majority of the roughly 200 reports that come in to the authority every year are about serious accidents, while only a fraction are about incidents and deviations.
“We usually say that for every serious accident there are 29 less serious accidents and 300 deviations. If only we got the same number of incident reports as accident reports, that would be a major step forward,” says Patrik Jönsson.
The importance of reporting deviations can’t be overestimated, according to Patrik Jönsson. Taking up risks and problems before they lead to more serious events is fundamental to the preventive approach to work environment and safety work that the agency runs, and without incident reports there is a risk that you miss important shortcomings and weaknesses.
“If we know what doesn’t work, our inspectors can concentrate on the right things when they are on board. We can then create a safer merchant navy where people feel better, they are off sick less and the ships need less time in the yard for repairs.”
Family: Wife, who is also a Master and head of unit at the Swedish Maritime Administration, and six children.
Lives: In a house in the country outside Söderköping.
Background: Construction worker before he started studying to be a Master in autumn 1998 at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg. Navigation officer with Finnlines between 2003 and 2013. After that at the Swedish Transport Agency.
Currently: Driven analyst at the Transport Agency who, among other things, is working to increase the amount of deviation reports handed in to the agency.
Work environment tip: Work with some form of risk assessment method, such as STARC: Stop. Think. Act. Reflect. Communicate. Think. Act. Reflect. Communicate.