TT Talk - Everyone knows...

Albert Einstein is quoted as saying ‘information is not knowledge’. The challenge today is to translate all the data points into clear learning that brings improvement.

In February 2019 John Todd, UN special envoy for road safety, reported to the UN ECE Inland Transport Committee that one person dies on the road every 29 seconds. Capt Brough, Head of ICHCA International stated that one person dies in a port every day. A report to the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in September 2018 asserted that 106 people lost their lives when handling bulk cargoes, of which 88 died as result of asphyxiation or carbon monoxide poisoning. Such statistics are available at national and international level, covering many operations within the global supply chain, sometimes providing conflicting data from differing sources.

Understanding statistics
It is not always easy to assimilate such information, particularly where the direct application to specific activities within the supply chain is unclear. Indeed, the tendency can be to filter such reports as a message from an interest group to highlight – and perhaps exaggerate – a particular statistic or, alternatively, to minimise the result in order to demonstrate the effectiveness of a control or system.

For example, John Todd’s message sought to promote improved road safety, but the majority of fatalities occurred in countries where infrastructure failure is more likely to cause fatalities.  When considering Europe, the average period between fatalities grows considerably to 17 mins 20 secs. Further, analysis of European fatalities involving goods vehicles indicates that they only comprised 5-6%, equating to one fatality every 5 hrs 20 mins (4.5 per day). However, it is not known whether the cause was a failure in the supply chain (such as load distribution) or a completely unrelated error.

Data sources
There is a variety of sources of information related to failures and incidents within the supply chain, including the IMO’s container inspection programme, CHIRP Maritime, CINS and the industry media.  Inevitably, each such source looks at a particular aspect of the supply chain, and arguably none provides a holistic view from which a true understanding of the supply chain failures can be analysed.

IMO’s container inspection programme requires each member state to provide inspection data of containers carrying dangerous goods but, since 1996, only 18 countries have made one or more report and on average just 26,360 containers have been inspected annually – or just 0.0144% of all packed containers. This information shows some worrying trends, such as increases in deficiencies related to marking and placarding and stowage and securing. However, the lack of statistical veracity means that no clear actions can be taken.

“the lack of statistical veracity means that no clear actions can be taken”

Anecdotal and anonymous reports of deficiencies in various operations through the intermodal supply chain at times point to severity and non-compliance that is disturbing, but rarely can be brought to scrutiny in the public domain. All, however, compromise an effective safety culture.

Leading indicators
A parallel article looks at the importance of near miss reporting and differing models in the air and maritime modes. As in most, if not all industries, the intermodal supply chain experiences many more near miss events than actual casualties. And yet, information regarding such control failures, mistakes, oversights or unsafe situations is seldom shared outside the particular stakeholder directly involved. This is a needless waste of valuable learning opportunities.

Inevitably, reporting systems that are implemented can only fully function if the data submitted are sufficiently consistent and comprehensive. The consequent learning opportunities can only follow if the data are accurately analysed. The IMO has reported that many member states are slow in producing reports following a serious incident at sea, which reduces the learning effect of an incident. All such efforts require the allocation of appropriate resource, but the benefits mean that the industry and international community can scarcely afford not to make such provision.

Learning to change
Transforming information into knowledge presents challenges. Take cargo-related containership fires as an example. Some reports indicate major casualties may be reducing in number year on year, albeit that the severity of the risk is probably increasing. However, 2019 has already seen major cargo-related fires on board ‘Yantian Express’, ‘APL Vancouver’, ‘ER Kobe’ and ‘Grande America’. Aggregating information from near miss events and more modest incidents, ensuring that necessary corrective actions or preventative measures are taken, is required. At this stage it may be reasonable to conclude that the fragmented nature of data collection and analysis may be preventing the necessary learning.

“it may be reasonable to conclude that the fragmented nature of data collection and analysis may be preventing the necessary learning”

We gratefully acknowledge the assistance in the preparation of this article of Bill Brassington of ETS Consulting

We hope that you have found the above interesting. If you would like further information, or have any comments, please email us, or take this opportunity to forward to any colleagues who you may feel would be interested.
We look forward to hearing from you.

Peregrine Storrs-Fox
Risk Management Director, TT Club


  • TT Talk 247 Chinese Translation (482 KB)


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  • TT Talk 249 Chinese Translation (457 KB)


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