What is FSA?
One way of ensuring that action is taken before a disaster occurs is the use a process known as formal safety assessment.
This has been described as "a rational and systematic process for assessing the risks associated with shipping activity and for evaluating the costs and benefits of IMO's options for reducing these risks."
It can be used as a tool to help evaluate new regulations or to compare proposed changes with existing standards. It enables a balance to be drawn between the various technical and operational issues, including the human element and between safety and costs.
FSA - which was originally developed partly at least as a response the Piper Alpha disaster of 1988, when an offshore platform exploded in the North Sea and 167 people lost their lives - is now being applied to the IMO rule making process.
Interim guidelines were adopted in 1997 and IMO Member States have been invited to carry out trials and report back to IMO.
FSA consists of five steps:
identification of hazards (a list of all relevant accident scenarios with potential causes and outcomes);
assessment of risks (evaluation of risk factors);
risk control options (devising regulatory measures to control and reduce the identified risks);
cost benefit assessment (determining cost effectiveness of each risk control option); and
recommendations for decision-making (information about the hazards, their associated risks and the cost effectiveness of alternative risk control options is provided).
In simple terms, these steps can be reduced to:
What might go wrong? = identification of hazards (a list of all relevant accident scenarios with potential causes and outcomes)
How bad and how likely? = assessment of risks (evaluation of risk factors);
Can matters be improved? = risk control options (devising regulatory measures to control and reduce the identified risks)
What would it cost and how much better would it be? = cost benefit assessment (determining cost effectiveness of each risk control option);
What actions should be taken? = recommendations for decision-making (information about the hazards, their associated risks and the cost effectiveness of alternative risk control options is provided).
Application of FSA may be particularly relevant to proposals for regulatory measures that have far reaching implications in terms of costs to the maritime industry or the administrative or legislative burdens that may result.
This is achieved by providing a clear justification for proposed regulatory measures and allowing comparison of different options of such measures to be made. This is in line with the basic philosophy of FSA in that it can be used as a tool to facilitate a transparent decision-making process. In addition, it provides a means of being proactive, enabling potential hazards to be considered before a serious accident occurs.
FSA represents a fundamental change from what was previously a largely piecemeal and reactive regulatory approach to one which is proactive, integrated, and above all based on risk evaluation and management in a transparent and justifiable manner thereby encouraging greater compliance with the maritime regulatory framework, in turn leading to improved safety and environmental protection.
One area where FSA is already being applied is bulk carrier safety. In December 1998, the Maritime Safety Committee, IMO's senior technical body, agreed to a framework setting out project objectives, scope and application, namely:
to inform IMO's future decision-making regarding measures to improve the safety of bulk carriers;
to apply FSA methodology to the safety of dry bulk shipping; and
to secure international collaboration and agreement.
The United Kingdom is co-ordinating the FSA study.
The International Association of Classification Societies (IACS), has carried out a Hazard Identification study on the watertight integrity of the fore end of bulk carriers, and has identified 51 hazards relating to the technical system, onboard operations, shore side operations during loading /unloading, and the management. Ten of these hazards are judged to represent an unacceptable level of risk and IACS notes they merit a more detailed assessment to determine the exact nature of the problem.
FSA is also being used to help ensure the safety of high-speed craft, a fast-growing sector of the shipping industry which has seen speeds increase dramatically in the last few years.
FSA is highly technical and complex. But it does offer a way forward and a means of escaping from the dilemma of the past in which action was too often put off until something went wrong - with the result that the actions taken often owed more to public opinion and political considerations than they did to technical merit.