Stories on Maritime Leadership

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The Safe-Man Model

A new concept for understanding and explaining safety005 small

This article appeared in the September 2017 edition of the esteemed Nautical Institute journal Seaways. The model first appeared in the book Golden Stripes- Leadership on the High Seas by Captain VS Parani.

Concern for man himself and his fate must always form the chief interest of all technical endeavors, concern for the great unsolved problems of the organization of labor...Never forget this in the midst of your diagrams and equations.
- Albert Einstein

I personally like the Swiss Cheese model of accident causation. This model proposed by Professor James T. Reason has been widely accepted in various industries. It helps safety professionals understand organizational factors which can cause accidents, and conversely, what is required from the management to prevent them.

But I find it difficult to explain this model to my seafaring colleagues. And I don’t blame anyone; I learnt of the model only after I had spent over a decade at sea, and then it took me some more time to gain clarity on how it worked. Even a professionally written SMS manual will lack effectiveness unless its core idea cannot be communicated to the front-line in clear, simple terms. A failure to understand safety systems often leads to accidents, directly affecting the seafarers, ships, and the environment. One need only look at the MARS and various industry reports to realize how widespread the problem is. This prompted me to find an alternative.

Understanding is the first step to successful risk management and safety leadership.

When I was responsible for the safety department of a fleet of over 100 ships, I observed that risk-safety management is a very dynamic process. Established safeguards do not guarantee safety; why else would you still have accidents with first-class ship operators. If you play by the rules, you stay safe for most of the time, but not always. There are surprises that constantly challenge you. It is as if there were devils lurking around the corner to jump you. Anyone who has been at sea would agree.

I was reflecting on this when the sneaky, vicious devils reminded of a video-game I played in my school days: Pac-Man. I tried explaining some accidents with this model and it fit perfectly. This model also explains safety-barriers, risk-assessment and safety-culture. I call it the ‘Safe-Man Model’.

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Imagine yourself and your shipmates as Safe-Men (Safe-Man 1 and 2). Before you begin any task, you have the option of considering if it is necessary to begin right away. For instance, you may ask, ‘Can we delay going on deck until the weather has quietened?’ Once you have decided that there is no other alternative but to begin the task, the game starts.
The game is to fulfil a task, such as navigating in restricted visibility, overhauling a liner, or carrying out a ballast tank inspection. If you heed all the available safety precautions, you can work in the ‘Safe Zone’, where the risks are reasonably low.

Now, three of the devils (Hazard, Risk, and Accident) are locked under barriers, while one (Unexpected New Hazard) roams free trying to catch you by surprise.

If a barrier fails, presto—the nearest devil inside is released. This means that now you have another devil to contend with. When you have more than one free devil, the ‘Safe Zone’ is no longer safe, and it’s only a matter of time before they move in for the kill.

Throughout the game you watch out for the other members of your team. Because if any of the devils catch even one of your crew (Safe-Men), the game ends.
To ensure that you have a safe day on board, give each Safe-Man a play zone with low risk, control the devils as best as you can, be alert for the free devil, and show your crew how to play to win.


Golden Stripes- Leadership on the High Seas by Captain VS Parani is available from Whittles Publishing (, and on Amazon (


'Captain Parani has keenly observed and noted what he has learnt in his career. There is a coherence and an elegance to what he offers his colleagues in this book. I am convinced that Captain Parani has more to say, more to offer, more to explain and elaborate, but he has the good sense of knowing where to stop and the dignity of telling us what we need to know’.
- Professor Sidney Dekker, MA MSc PhD, School of Humanities, Languages and Social Sciences, Griffith University, Australia; best-selling author on human factors and safety;


Golden Stripes makes an important contribution to leadership at sea. By asking seafarers to focus on safety management and more importantly safety leadership Captain VS Parani ensures safety is and should be the primary concern for those charged with the safety of others’.
- Robert B Hafey, RBH Consulting USA; author of Lean Safety: Transforming your Safety Culture with Lean Management.

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