Learning from incidents and near misses in the Port of Antwerp-Bruges: a complex safety problem

Port of Antwerp-Bruges: dealing with non-proprietary risks

The Port of Antwerp-Bruges (PoAB) is the largest cluster of chemical companies in Europe. Its port authorities oversee the activities of hundreds of companies and organisations on its premises on a daily basis. All these organisations are confronted with risks and incidents on a daily basis, which in turn can influence the continuity of other companies in the port operation in general.

In its management role, the Port Authority of PoAB is confronted with non-proprietary risks and can take measures that limit the impact of incidents on activities in the port. The question arises what network policy PoAB can pursue to better control these risks. Esger ten Thij tackled this complex issue as part of his final year internship in integrated security studies at Avans University of Applied Sciences (The Netherlands)*. Esger studied actual incidents and near-misses the port authority and its partners have to deal with and how organisational learning techniques can be applied in the port to better manage these risks.

The most striking result from Esgers study is that there is a big difference between the various levels at which near misses can be learned from and improved. At the operational level, for example, lessons are mainly ‘learned by doing’. In other words, learning is individual and ad hoc. At the tactical level, however, managers of the port authority exchange information after (potentially) disruptive events. Significant gains can still be made by structurally sharing information with external parties such as the emergency services, who are often used to structural evaluation. In general, internal and external parties express their need to practice and exercise more in the field and on a tactical level, to share knowledge with other ports and to improve communication with internal departments and external partners about incidents and near misses.

Esger concluded his report with a number of recommendations. First is the standardisation of reporting according to the 6W’s principle: who, what, where, when, why and how. Next, he recommends implementing a system that can provide efficient and clear information for following up and dealing with incidents. Finally, the last recommendation is to practise more with internal and external partners to share knowledge and practical experience. On a tactical level, tabletop exercises allow for involvement of external parties. In the field, Esger advises realistic exercises in which different parties work together on a multidisciplinary basis.

*The research Esger ten Thij did at the Port of Antwerp-Bruges slotted in an internship he was doing at PM and ties in with a long-term research project on safety in the Port of Antwerp-Bruges that colleagues Hugo Marynissen and Steven van den Oord are conducting at UAntwerpen.