At the American Waterways Operators’ Fall Convention in San Diego October 17, Vice Adm. Linda Fagan, U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Area Commander, presented AWO Chairman Scott Merritt with a Meritorious Public Service Award for AWO in recognition of its 75th anniversary and the association’s many contributions to the Coast Guard’s missions.
The citation singles out the many forms that the long-standing safety partnership has taken between the AWO and the Coast Guard since 1995. The Coast Guard has publicly said many times that industry’s cooperation has been and remains vital in carrying out its safety mission.
Under the National Quality Steering Committee, industry and Coast Guard representatives worked to established three Regional Quality Steering Committees; those in turn launched 25 Quality Action Teams that “spearheaded non-regulatory enhancement to the safety of merchant mariners.” “American Waterways Operators served as pioneers in initiative best practices and guidelines for the industry to mitigate risk,” the citation reads.
The most prominent of these has, of course, been the Responsible Carrier Program and other collaborative efforts in the development of the Subchapter M regulations, the most important private-public partnership in the history of the towing industry. The collaborative teams included such regional groups as the Arctic Towing Vessel Ice and Cold Weather Operating guidelines on the West Coast, and teams to improve hurricane response on the East Coast.
All this immense amount of behind-the-scenes work was accomplished by industry volunteers contributing enormous amounts of unpaid time, energy and expertise. The results have included a 50 percent decrease in the number of marine casualties and an 80 percent decrease in the number of fatalities since these efforts began.
The results of such a close partnership include not only the positive safety outcomes, but also the harder-to-measure near misses—i.e., bad outcomes for the industry that could have happened, but were headed off by ongoing close communication and collaboration. Despite the glitches and bumps that inevitably occur as part of every partnership, everyone involved in these efforts on both sides defends the collaboration.
Of course, industry leaders regularly say more needs to be done—the title of the AWO’s safety newsletter is Navigating to Zero, meaning zero incidents. In an effort like this, reliable and comprehensive data are crucial, and the AWO has made 100 percent participation by AWO members in its Safety Statistics Reporting Program a top goal. It recently reported that only 26 companies remain non-participants. But it is very appropriate to stop, pause, and recognize the distance already traveled and the tremendous accomplishments achieved.