This year’s SAN prize goes to two employees on Viking M/S Cinderella

Significant health and safety issues on M/S Viking Cinderella caused Seko Seafarers’ Bent Björn-Nielsen and Chief Safety Officer Anders Ekberg to look for solutions. In October they were awarded the SAN work environment prize for long-term, successful work.
Anders Ekberg (TV) and Bent Björn-Nielsen have worked together with the work environment on board Viking Cinderella for several years.

When the Swedish Transport Agency carried out an inspection on Viking Cinderella in 2018, serious health and safety shortcomings were discovered. Health and safety work was failed on 15 items, including sick leave not followed up, a dysfunctional safety organization and work accidents not investigated. There was a widespread dissatisfaction with the situation among crewmembers and many felt that they were not taken seriously when they voiced criticism. This prompted Bent Björn-Nielsen and Anders Ekberg to act. They started brainstorming together and came up with an action plan. When the Swedish Transport Agency carried out a follow-up inspection one year later, they found that all the deficiencies had been dealt with, even though the work had not been fully completed. Since then, Bent Björn-Nilsen and Anders Ekberg have continued to pursue work environment issues on the ship and they currently feel it is working reasonably well.

“We are on the right track and it is improving all the time. One of the most important things, I think, is that people feel they are listened to and that they can participate and influence things. They notice that something happens when they raise problems with us,” says Anders Ekberg.

The crew is involved both in the ongoing health and safety work as well as more extensive changes on board.

I think it is crucial to be out on the ship talking to the crew and not just sitting in the office.

“If there is going to be a major rebuild, for example, then safety officers, department managers, ship managers and those who work in the department must be involved and sign the decision. We call it a project banquet. This is a win-win for everyone, instead of the shipping company deciding to do something that has to be done again later because it didn’t turn out well,” says Anders Ekberg.

Bent Björn-Nielsen tells us that they had to make quite a few changes before they could achieve the current situation. The original list of measures included convincing managers of the benefits of a good work environment and they themselves being available for their colleagues.

“I think it is crucial to be out on the ship talking to the crew and not just sitting in the office. We also shadowed the night cleaners and the guards to check on their conditions,” says Bent Björn-Nielsen.

They believe that one of the success factors is doing the job together and sharing the same basic attitude and goals.

“There aren’t many days a week that Anders and I are not in touch with each other, and we talk on the phone and text each other even when we’re off work. We want to create a workplace where everyone is positive and people feel content. You can’t make everyone happy all the time, but we try,” says Bent Björn-Nielsen.

Once again they are facing new, widespread changes. The ship will be in dock for a major overhaul after the New Year and it was recently announced that Cinderella will sail under a Finnish flag. Exactly how this will affect the crew is unclear at the time of writing, but Anders Ekberg and Bent Björn-Nielsen say that they will continue to prioritize health and safety issues on board.

“We won’t be taking a break because of this – there is a lot for us to do,” says Bent Björn-Nielsen.

Bent Björn-Nielsen and Anders Ekberg talk about health and safety work on board Cinderella

“The most important thing is achieving a good spirit of cooperation and we have got new safety officers who want to work with these issues. As far as possible we try to find creative solutions to problems that arise. Our goal has always been to create a workplace where people are positive and content.”

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