Winter 2018 Newsletter

By: Rene Cheramie

Subchapter M Compliance

Winter 2018 Newsletter.pdf
Rene Cheramie Presentation.pdf


The following article is based upon 46 CFR Subchapter M Parts 138 and 139, the ISM Code and the author’s personal experiences. Links to the related regulations are provided at the end of the article. This article is intended for informational purposes only.

There are two options for documenting compliance with the requirements for Subchapter M to obtain a U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Certificate of Inspection (COI) for a towing vessel. There’s the USCG option, in which all inspections of the towing vessel are conducted by the USCG. There is also the Towing Safety Management System (TSMS) option. Regardless of the option chosen, the USCG is responsible for issuing a towing vessel COI, and may board a vessel at any time to verify compliance and take appropriate action. Owners or managing operators may choose different options for the individual vessels within their fleets. In this article, we explore the TSMS option.

Towing vessel owners or managing operators who select the TSMS option to demonstrate compliance with 46 CFR Subchapter M must complete management and vessel audits to assess compliance with their TSMS, obtain a TSMS Certificate and complete surveys to demonstrate vessel compliance with 46 CFR subchapter M. Functions related to completing audits, issuing a TSMS certificate and completing surveys are carried out by a third-party organization (TPO) or an organization that can perform the work of a TPO.

What is a TSMS? Management based systems such as a TSMS must meet the regulatory criteria while at the same time reflect reality and be accepted and fully implemented by the crews. If not, they can lead to significant fines and be used as “checklists for negligence” against the company or the crew during litigation. The USCG uses the form CG 835 for vessels subjected to obtaining and maintaining a USCG COI. The process in developing a TSMS includes recommended policies and procedures, review by key employees ashore and afloat, consensus and revision of all policies and procedures, and distribution of manuals. A TSMS means a structured and documented system enabling company personnel to implement effectively the company safety and environmental protection policy. The regulatory criteria can be found in Subchapter M or the ISM Code.

There are various options for drafting a TSMS. It could be prescriptive or non-prescriptive. Say what you will do and then do what you say. Many companies have purchased a canned product and then apply their operation to the canned product. In my opinion, this approach sets the company up for failure. By performing a needs assessment, creating a gap analysis and incorporating that into the company operation, using subchapter M as the guiding principles, the company is able to make a custom TSMS better suited to their operations. There are many good products out on the market, but when a company uses a deliberate process in drafting the TSMS, they will be in a better position to determine if they should use a more prescriptive and robust system as opposed to a less prescriptive system.

So what is a vessel operations manual? Subchapter M does not specify any particular approach to establish plans, instructions and checklists. It is for the company to choose methods appropriate to its organizational structure, its ships and its trades. The methods may be more or less formal, but they must be systematic if assessment and response are to be complete and effective. The company should establish procedures for the preparation of plans and instructions for key shipboard operations concerning the safety of the ship and the prevention of pollution. The various tasks involved should be defined and assigned to qualified personnel. The vessel operations manual should include those operations for which mandatory rules and regulations prescribe performance requirements or specific requirements for plans, procedures, instructions, records and checklists. Manual also should address those items connected to the particular ship’s type which may affect safety and pollution prevention. In addition, the manual needs to include items for which safe practices in ship operations and a safe working environment have been recommended by the USCG and those items which the company may consider to create hazardous situations if not controlled by plans and instructions.

How to prepare for TSMS Certification? The company must identify risks and implement safeguards against them. A robust corrective and preventative action system assists in demonstrating dynamic of change and continual improvement toward betterment of safeguards. Specific objectives and targets shall be established within the company at various relevant levels regarding health, safety and pollution prevention activities. The objectives and targets should have responsibility assigned, developed with a means to implement, set up with a time frame and tracked for completion. The objectives and targets shall be reviewed during the management review, and communicated to relevant levels within the organization. The company must develop a safety and environmental policy, define roles, responsibilities and authority of shore based management, the designated person, the Master and other shipboard personnel. The company must provide instructions, procedures, guidelines, checklists and other appropriate documentation for the safe operation of the ship. Establish, implement and maintain a means to monitor that the ship is in compliance with relevant USCG regulations. Establish, implement and maintain a corrective/preventative action system whereby actual incidents, near hits and other nonconformance are reported, analyzed, an appropriate action taken and followed up for effectiveness. Establish, implement and maintain an internal audit program that addresses each of the applicable elements of subchapter M on the ship and the office. Establish, implement and maintain a management review procedure as well as a training program. Establish, implement and maintain an emergency preparedness program as well as a document control process for documentation from both internal and external sources.

The company should validate that all personnel have an understanding and appreciation of the safety and environmental policy. The policy can be posted throughout the company and on the ships. Newly hired personnel can be introduced to the policy during company orientation and ship orientation as applicable. Safety meetings and other company functions can promote the policy. Validation that personnel understand the policy can be established through Masters Review and through the audit. If the policy says the company wishes to create an injury free workplace, then personnel should not state that the policy says to wear steel toed shoes. Wearing the shoes is one method on how personnel contribute to meeting that particular objective within the policy. Each person should be able to address what the policy says in their own words, have knowledge of its documented or posted location and how each person contributes to meeting the policy. The company should consider establishing understanding of the policy during reviews and audits. The company should develop a TSMS that addresses each of the specified and implied tasks within subchapter M. Personnel within the company are provided with a simple one to one correspondence with how the company addresses each requirement and also includes direction to related documentation. The company needs to have a simplified document review processes for internal and external auditors. The company needs to create a template allowing for other standards that can be inserted within the TSMS as appropriate. For example emergency preparedness within the TSMS could also be used to address the emergency preparedness element of an environmental management system without creating additional redundant documentation. The company may then choose to rename the safety management manual as a management system manual to integrate any other management system standard into the company’s activities and processes.

How long will it take to develop and implement a TSMS? The short answer is that it is task driven and not time driven. The answer depends upon the size of a company and the culture. I have worked with a company in the 30 boat range with about 100 employees and an informal climate that has taken as long as 12 to 18 months to become fully compliant. No company (large or small) will be able to develop and implement a TSMS without support from upper management.

Should I use a safety consultant to develop my TSMS? It depends upon whether you want to outsource your operations or take care of it internally. At a minimum, subchapter M mandates an internal audit, which by definition should involve a safety consultant to audit the TSMS. In addition subchapter M mandates an additional external audit from a TPO and/or USCG. Most businesses would not subject themselves to an IRS Audit without the assistance of a C.P.A. and most businesses with towing vessels subjected to subchapter M will discover over time they are better off not subjecting themselves to the USCG without a safety consultant.

About the Author:
A.R. Cheramie Marine Management, Inc. / President
Brusco Tug and Barge, Inc. / D.P.A.
WaveCrest, Inc. / Marine Logistics Coordinator and Auditor

For More Information about Subchapter M:
USCG Blog for Maritime Professionals / Maritime Commons
USCG Tug Safe web site
46 CFR Subchapter M Part 138
46 CFR Subchapter M Part 139
ISM Code