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Smooth sailing

By Keith Norbury | January 17, 2013
Smooth sailing
Queen of the North

The challenge:
On March 22, 2006, the Queen of the North sunk after ramming into Gil Island en route from Prince Rupert in northern B.C. to Port Hardy on Vancouver Island. Two passengers died in the tragedy. Nine days later, Mike Corrigan, who had been B.C. Ferry Service’s Inc. vice-president of business development, became the corporation’s chief operating officer. “And my sole focus pretty much since then has been the safe operation of B.C. Ferries,” says Corrigan, who in January 2012 succeeded David Hahn as president and CEO of the ferry corporation.

Despite the tragedy, outside experts had given the ferry system good marks for safety, Corrigan noted. But he wanted to make it the safest marine transportation company in the world. To do that, he realized, he would need the support of the employees and their union. But union and management relations had been strained for years.

The strategy:
Corrigan shared his safety vision with the union’s then-president, Jackie Miller, “And she was totally aligned with it,” Corrigan says.

In 2007 B.C. Ferries commissioned a safety review from former B.C. auditor general George Morfitt. The report made 41 recommendations that formed the basis for what became SailSafe, a joint venture between the corporation and the union, which makes safety the duty and responsibility of every employee. A process called ALERT (All Learning Events Reported Today) empowers every employee to report any safety issue to a supervisor. Those reports are logged into a computer system where they are reviewed to identify hazards with action taken as required.

In launching SailSafe, the organizers brought in world-class safety consultants WrightWay Training and FORCE Technology (together known as WrightForce) to help with the implementation. The employees, though, needed to be onside for the program to work. Turning that tide took a couple of years. “Really, the whole program is built on the belief that employees are the best people to know what needs to be done to do their jobs safely,” Corrigan says.

The results:
By August 2012, SailSafe’s ALERT had logged 3,500 incidents, Corrigan says. According to the corporation’s 2011-12 annual report, lost-time injuries have decreased by 46 per cent, while work days lost to injury have also fallen, by 35 per cent, since SailSafe was initiated.

Miller, who retired in 2009, credits the success of SailSafe to a determination to separate safety from labour relations. “I can’t say that it was smooth sailing at all on anything else,” Miller said. “But when it came to safety and to SailSafe, Mike and I were committed to one another and to the organization and to the program until the day that I left that office.”

The future:
Now that Corrigan is at the helm of the ferry corporation, expect him to continue on a safety heading. His focus on safety is also a tribute to his father, whose death at age 67 was hastened by ailments incurred from a life as miner in northern Ontario during a time when safety wasn’t a priority.

“The thing that I focus on every day is still the safe operations of the system,” Corrigan says. “I tell our employees and my team, you guys focus on safe, efficient operations, keep the customers happy, and I’ll deal with everything else as best as I can.”

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