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Throughout the remainder of the year, we’re bringing you the inspiring stories of our 2023 Safety Award Nominees. In this installment, Michiel Versteeg, Head of Safety at Saltchuk, shares his knowledge on developing a successful Near-Miss Program, revealing the critical elements required to foster a culture of proactive reporting and continuous improvement.

We’ll also recognize John Carlin, Barge Manager at The Jankovich Company, who was nominated for his remarkable vigilance in identifying potential safety hazards before they could escalate to the level of Near-Miss Incidents. Carlin’s keen eye for recognizing and addressing potential risks is a testament to his unwavering dedication to protecting his team and ensuring their well-being.

As we delve into their stories, we are reminded of the strength and determination that permeates every aspect of our Saltchuk community. By spotlighting these outstanding individuals, we celebrate the collaborative spirit that defines us and inspires us to elevate safety standards across our organization.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration defines a near-miss as a potential hazard of incident in which no property was damaged and no personal injury was sustained but where, given a slight shift in time or position, damage or injury easily could have occurred.

“In the world of safety, we also think of near-miss incidents as ‘close calls,’ ‘near-accidents,’ or ‘injury-free events,’” explained Michiel Versteeg, Saltchuk’s Head of Safety.

According to Versteeg, companies shouldn’t seek to avoid near-misses—they should seek to capture them.

  • Develop a culture of genuine care 

“There are three proven steps to running a successful near-miss program,” Versteeg continued. “The first is developing a culture of genuine care. Fundamentally, you can’t run a near-miss program until employees understand they won’t be blamed for drawing attention to potential safety hazards. Acknowledging reports and thanking employees for their vigilance is also key.”

  • Train employees

“If you don’t train your employees on what constitutes a near-miss versus an unsafe act versus an unsafe condition, your reports will be inaccurate.”

For Versteeg, a simple fire hose is a great analogy.

“If an employee is walking around and notices a fire hose lying across the walkway and reports it—that’s not a near-miss. It’s an unsafe condition. If that employee notices another employee jumping over the hose to cross the walkway, that’s an unsafe act. It’s only when the employee sees someone jump over the hose, trip, and nearly fall to the ground that it becomes a near-miss.”

Versteeg said that while each type of incident should be reported, the risk of injury from a near-miss is much higher, and employees should know the difference between the three when reporting.

  • Proper reporting

Versteeg said the goal of collecting near-misses isn’t in the reporting itself but in leveraging knowledge.

“Many good programs break down because of the time it takes to analyze every near-miss for its root cause, but only through determining this root cause can you begin corrective and preventative action, which is the point of all safety programs.”

John Carlin, Barge Manager, The Jankovich Company
2023 Saltchuk Safety Award Nominee

John Carlin grew up in San Pedro, California. After high school, he attended Tongue Point Seamanship Program, eventually joining Foss Maritime. He spent 18 years working for the company in Long Beach, California. 

“I spent a lot of time towing up and down to El Segundo with the Vapor Recovery processing barge for Chevron,” he said.

When Foss left the bunker business in Long Beach, Carlin transitioned to Leo Marine with the equipment from Foss, working there for a little over a year. He was soon given “the opportunity of a lifetime” to come and work for The Jankovich Company.

“The minute I stepped into their doors, I knew this is where I wanted to be—a family-orientated business where everybody treats you like a family is something I have been looking for for a long time.”

Carlin said he’s noticed a significant turnover in safety and workplace injuries during his more than 20 years in the industry.

“When I was 23 or 24, I was hurt on the job. I was on the beach with an injured back for nine months, an injury that could have been avoided if I had been patient and taken a step back to safety. I was young and eager to get the job completed. With the training in the industry today compared to then, I’ve learned so much about how to become safer in the workplace. Since then, I’ve paid close attention to safety concerns and always tried to put safety first.”

His nominator, TJC’s Marine HSQE Manager Rob McCaughey, agrees.

“John Carlin has only been with TJC for less than a year but is already considered a safety leader with his peers and the company. He’s identified multiple potential safety issues on our barges and brought them to our attention for correction, ensuring that they never become an issue—this saves time and makes our Marine operation safer. He recently and successfully represented our company during a USCG COI inspection on the Payton J in San Diego. Carlin is very involved with our Safety Meetings and is looked up to by our Marine team.”

“This industry means a great deal to me,” Carlin concluded. “I want nothing more than to follow in my father’s footsteps and leave a mark in this industry like he did, with hard work and integrity.”

  • Close the loop

According to Versteeg, when employees like John Carlin report near-misses, unsafe conditions, or unsafe acts, it’s critical for managers of safety programs to close the PDCA loop.

“PDCA—Plan, Do, Check, Act. At the end of the year, safety leaders should do a full analysis of all their near-misses. Run reports and look at trends.”

For example, he said, if 80 percent of a company’s near-misses involve people falling into bodies of water, safety leaders will want to expand the number and placement of life jackets.

“Root-cause analysis drives corrective and preventative action. If you don’t have the resources to manage all of the PDCA aspects of a near-miss program, you’ll never be able to expand it. A good surface-level program is not enough, but doing all these things right will drive operational excellence.”

Hilary Reeves

Hilary Reeves spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining the Saltchuk family of companies as a consultant. Since People of Saltchuk launched in 2014, Reeves has interviewed more than 200 Saltchuk employees from operating companies all over the world. Born in Tacoma, Washington, Reeves is a former president of both the collegiate and local professional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists, a graduate of the Society’s Ted Scripps Leadership Institute, and a Toastmaster. When she’s not writing, she loves to read, ski, and practice the piano. She lives in West Seattle with her husband and two young daughters.