WJ Editorial
WJ Editorial

Safety: Closer To Zero

The latest report from Coast Guard-American Waterways Operators Safety Partnership’s National Quality Steering Committee on industry safety statistics gives cause for much satisfaction among towing industry leaders.

The report reflects tighter, more precise record-keeping and reporting requirements. After extensive consultations with industry, the Coast Guard released Navigation and Vessel Inspection Circular (NVIC) 01-15, which clarified requirements of reporting marine casualties and refined the classification of reportable incidents and injuries to offer a better picture of marine casualties and injuries. Injuries formerly classified as “most significant” are now divided into serious, severe and critical, with precise definitions for each category.

The report is a testament to better reporting methods that help capture information most relevant to better safety. But besides presenting a more accurate picture, it also testifies to increasing levels of safety aboard inland towing vessels.

Some of the reported figures are dramatic. In 2017, there were 934 reported towing vessel incidents compared to 1,231 in 2016—a 24 percent decrease. Of the 89 injuries reported, down from 100 the previous year, 82 percent were considered low-severity.

From 2014 through 2017, the report showed a 45 percent reduction in all marine casualties reported to the Coast Guard.

As reportable incidents continue to drop, single events can cause spikes in percentages that can be misleading. As the report notes, a single oil spill, the Bouchard Transportation barge explosion, accounted for 95 percent of all spills in 2017. When general media report on the oil spills or falls overboard, this report will be a valuable tool in helping the industry to put such increasingly rare incidents into their proper context.

Notably, there were no critical injuries reported in 2016 or 2017. 

The safest, by far, mode of commercial transportation per ton-mile is becoming even safer, thanks to the close cooperation between industry and Coast Guard and the spread of best practices and constant safety awareness.  Figures like the ones reported show that the stated goal of many towing companies, to achieve zero reportable incidents, is not a pipe dream.  In many categories, zero is in sight.

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