While all this might look like the kind of health and safety procedures one might expect to be in place already, the results of the programme show that a fresh focus has clearly concentrated minds.
As a result of the programme, Shell’s serious actual and potential incidents have been reduced threefold since 2011.
The 'visible leadership' mantra ensures chief executives in the network of 500 maritime partners actually visit ships and talk to crew. No boss is allowed to hide behind a deluge of emails or executive meetings in the boardroom.
'Procedural compliance' involves what might sound like a New Age hippy term — reflective learning – but is simply a way to ensure people learn more effectively from incidents by using videos, a discussion group of 20 to 30 participants and a facilitator to talk through issues.
The third thread — 'learning from incidents' — is a follow-on from this, involving online learning tools in different languages that are easy to access, and focus on specific themes such as ‘confined spaces’ or ‘falling into the water’.
Going up a hill
However, introducing new procedures and approaches is not always welcomed with open arms.
“To begin with, many people saw this as just another programme,” said head of Shell Shipping, Grahaeme Henderson, speaking to Lloyd’s List in his London office.
Mr Henderson is now an established figure in the shipping industry, having been head of Shell Shipping since 2011, with leadership roles in various shipping industry bodies.
But he started outside the industry, with a PhD in mathematics and as a professional chartered engineer. Perhaps it is this outsider status that spurs a determination for fresh thinking.
“We were going up the hill at one time on this,” he said, adding: “We are now definitely over the hill and people are starting to believe in this.”
Human beings being human beings means it is difficult to say exactly how the programme will pan out in the long term, but “we are now seeing a lot more pull than push”, said Mr Henderson.
“Are we totally there at the moment? No, I think this has to run a bit more. Some companies want to be convinced, but hopefully they will get there.”
One wonders how dynasty-run shipowners, who have been doing things their own way for decades, would feel about adopting a new safety culture introduced by an energy major that largely prefers to operate and charter ships long-term, rather than own them outright.
Those dynasty-run shipowners are family people, with family-run businesses and strong family values, and therefore have a deep vested interest in safety, Mr Henderson responded.
“In many ways, this appeals to them.”
Seatrans Ship Management is one of Shell’s 500 maritime partners involved in the annual discussions on safety.
Coming together as an industry on the topic “is the biggest step change”, Seatrans managing director Gisle Rong told Lloyd’s List, speaking from his Norway headquarters.
Shell’s proactive approach to safety culture has been unique in that it is “definitely doing it in a different way” and “stepping up and pulling the industry in the right direction”, he said.
“There is constantly an effort required to change people’s culture and behaviour,” he said. “Some companies might think, 'why should I be doing this? It’ll always be like that'.”
Mr Rong attended a Shell-run safety conference this year, along with other chief executives from the group of business partners.
“I felt it was different this time compared with last year,” he said. “There was less resistance this year. It will develop, as long as we are moving in the right direction.”
The insistence on ship visits by chief executives is major progress, according to Seatrans.
“We have 10 tankers and six dry cargo vessels and I know all the captains by name,” said Mr Rong.
US-based Kirby Corp is another company involved in the group of maritime business partners with Shell.
“Their actions can and are simply making the industry safer,” Kirby Corp chief executive David Grzebinski told Lloyd’s List.
“It is a process of continuous improvement for all of us and Shell’s continued outreach and emphasis are positively impacting operations across the industry.”
For Mr Grzebinski, the focus on sharing safety videos with employees has been crucial.
“An example of an impactful interaction is a special safety video that we at Kirby made interviewing Captain Tim Downs, general manager shipping and maritime Americas for Shell,” said Mr Grzebinski.
“Our interview together focused on why safety is important to both Shell and Kirby and what we could do to be safer as an industry. This video was shared with our 2,500 maritime employees and it had a very positive impact on our fleet’s safety.
"The willingness of a senior leader at Shell to participate on such a personal level to improve safety in our company resonated throughout our employee base.”