Nobody could have predicted the far-reaching effects of COVID-19 into every facet of daily life. Lockdowns rolled across the globe, office workers transitioned to remote work, and still, the shipping industry marched on to keep the world’s supply chain moving. In this period of intense transition, Teekay had to find new ways to operate while delivering the same five-star service our customers count on us for.
In a typical year, we deploy our Quality Assurance and Training Officers (QATOs) across the globe to board our vessels and conduct the Integrated Internal Shipboard Audit that is comprised of the ISM Code, ISPS Code and the ISO 9001, 14001 and 45001 standards. The audit helps us to evaluate how well the Management System and its processes are implemented onboard and provides an indication of the HSEQ standards in place and how well risk is being managed. It also provides an excellent opportunity to close the quality loop by providing appropriate improvement training for the crew. The process provides confirmation that our vessels are a safe place to work for our sea staff and holds us accountable to the high standard we have set for onboard safety.
Typically, our QATOs fly to join our vessels in port and sail onboard to complete the audits and training, a process which typically take 8 to 12 days. This time allows our QATOs to closely interact and engage with our seafarers after the audits have been completed.
As everyone knows, 2020 is not a typical year. The spread of COVID-19 introduced unprecedented challenges we had to overcome to see our audit process through, specifically:
- How could we continue our usual audit process when many countries our staff live and work in were in total lockdown overnight?
- How could we allow QATOs to board ships alongside our seafarers when physical distancing was recommended?
- How could our QATOs board ships when the ports were closed?
With the cooperation of our staff on board our vessels, Teekay was able to rise to the challenge. In April, we drafted a process for auditing vessels remotely with the goal of ensuring these remote audits could be meaningful, even if our QATOs couldn’t be present on board. We needed to be as realistic as possible but without watering down our standards of operation.
Our remote audit process involved much collaboration between ship and shore, as well as with governing bodies. We reviewed our process with our fleets, including the HSEQ teams, and our classification society, and received approvals from all flag states. With this approval in our hands, we conducted trials, collected feedback, used the feedback to optimize the audit process, and then sought re-approval by all parties. Finally, we arrived at a place where we feel our remote audits are meaningful and uphold our high Teekay standards.
While the onboard audit and training will remain the optimal methodology for conducting audits post COVID, we found a number of advantages to our interim remote audit approach and were able to change what first appeared to be challenges into positive opportunities. For example, while the QATOs would normally be physically verifying system user abilities, our safety officers were trained to handle this aspect of the audit which empowered them to become part of the process. In addition to the QATO interviews, some of the Officers on board also audited other departments which allowed them to not only develop new skills but provided a better understanding of the audit process, the techniques to be used, and how observations can be communicated to bring value.
Of course, the process has not been without its challenges. Our IT teams have leapt into action to create the infrastructure needed for our remote audit process to exist. And adjusting to a remote environment has relied on the resilience and cooperation of all staff involved. We are grateful that our Teekay colleagues have risen to the occasion to show us what true teamwork and innovation can look like.
Hat’s off to all our seafarers, QATOs, vessel managers, and shore staff that have made the best of this unprecedented situation to hold onboard safety to the highest standard.