Professional Skipper – July 2003 issue     back to articles menu

“Quality is free?”

Safe Ship Management System. Total Quality Management. ISO 9000. Quality Assurance. Quality Control. It’s all so confusing… Is it really worth all the hassle? In the old days it was a simple battle between you and the inspector, and your boat either passed or it didn’t, and if it didn’t you were told what had to be done.

The Scene: It’s the mid 1980’s, I am standing in the wheelhouse, we are alongside the wharf, and the MOT Inspector is conducting annual survey. The hatch to the engine room is open, and the voices float up to me. Things have not been going well. The Boss’s voice has been sounding more and more strained, as if he’s trying desperately to control a blowout.

Inspector: “You’ve got to mount a hand bilge pump on that bulkhead.”
Boss: “There are three electric pumps plus a portable hand pump, and the bilges are all free-flowing. Why do I need a hand pump in here?”
Inspector: “The regulations say you’ve just got to, OK? Just do it.”
Boss (raised voice): “Listen Sunshine, a frightened man with a #$%^-ing bucket would shift more water than a bloody silly hand pump!!”
Inspector: “Do you want your Survey Certificate?”
Boss: (Sigh) “OK, OK, I’ll mount a stupid #$%^&-ing hand pump on the *&^%$-ing bulkhead. But you and I both know it will never be used.”
Inspector: “It doesn’t have to be used. It’s just gotta be there. OK?”

And that’s how it was done back then. Life was simpler, I reckon. I’m in the middle of preparing for an Audit of our QMS (Quality Management System) by the NZ Qualifications Authority (NZQA). All these acronyms – it’s enough to give you PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) although in my case its ‘pre-’ rather than ‘post’. I am girding my loins for a session with Bureaucracy. I have already started taking my medication, to build up a good ‘background dose’, to make sure I am docile and cooperative. Those of you who are responsible for the creation, maintenance and application of a Safe Ship Management System and then the auditing of that will know what I mean. The detail is incredible. To laboriously describe how you do what you do, when the fact is that you do what you do largely without thinking about it and have done successfully for years, seems all a bit of a waste of bloody time. At least, I used to think so.

 It’s all very well for larger companies with vats of money sloshing around to employ individuals whose sole task is to create lots of manuals (that no-one will ever read), ask millions of damn fool questions, and generally slow the whole place down with the sudden need for all parties to put everything in triplicate; but for us mere mortals – the small charter operator, or in my case the small Private Training Establishment (PTE) - the requirements can sometimes seem ludicrous. I have just had a meeting with myself to discuss how our Course Evaluations can be improved, and I am going to circulate my ideas to myself for additional comment. When I send those comments to myself I will then hold another meeting with myself, which will be fully minuted and documented in 6.2.1 Records of Meetings, and then I will decide that no improvements need to be made. I will record that decision in 8.3.2 Document Review Register, which of course needs to be signed off and approved by myself, and I don’t anticipate disagreement at this stage.

What will be a major blast, and I’m really looking forward to it, is when I sit in a room with my 6 other imaginary persona’s and discuss the company’s goals and objectives to ensure that they are being met as set out in the company’s Charter. What I haven’t figured out yet, is that while (with the aid of certain administered chemicals) I am able to create 6 imaginary versions of myself so we can have a meaningful dialogue with lots of input, exactly what am I supposed to do when one of myself disagrees with me? I mean, how do I handle that? I know I can overrule myself, and if necessary throw myself out of the meeting for rank impertinence, but if I did that to all of me, who would I have left to discuss things with? Part of the problem will be that I can predict, with a fair degree of certainty, what I will be saying to myself – and that kinda makes for a boring meeting, even though I do consider all of my selves to be interesting and stimulating speakers. So what I might try and do is come up with a suggestion for improvement that is so breathtakingly innovative, so fresh-paintedly new, that I could not have foreseen myself coming up with it. Then of course comes the ‘piece de resistance’, wherein I will engage myself in a robust, objective and impartial criticism of that new idea. It should make for a stormy meeting, but then new ideas are often smelted in the crucible of educated conflict and come out the better for it. As Joel Barker says, “New Ideas are created at the Edge”, which I think is currently where my sanity is, so I should be able to come up with plenty.  Right at this moment I am trying to answer the question about how my organisation accommodates Treaty of Waitangi requirements and I always have a bit of difficulty here, since I differ with the views of the politically correct in that I call our society a multi-cultural, not a bi-cultural one – and I had to smile at the bit in the Guide that explains somewhat condescendingly that bi-culturalism relates to the fact that NZ’s population contains two races – Maori and Non-Maori. Bugger me, I thought I was English. All these years and I had no idea. I’m not sure how I’m supposed to alert the Government to the fact that most of the people in my street are Asian, clearly Customs & Immigration aren’t doing their job since these people must have sneaked in unobserved.

A friend of mine owns a Charter boat in Taupo (no names) and I was commiserating with him about the low level of the lake. The discussion moved on to his SSMS and he had a few gripes, one being about a Carley-type life float that was stencilled ‘6 persons’.  Apparently he’s been instructed to paint out the ‘6’ and insert a ‘4’. No one will tell him why suddenly this float has lost a third of its buoyancy overnight. He bought new extinguishers of the right size to comply with the last inspection – they’re only two years old. Now suddenly his vessel is 300mm – yes that’s 30 centimetres – too long for that category of extinguisher, and he’s got to buy bigger ones, and guess what… The bloke who supplied the previous (unused) extinguishers won’t trade them in on the new ($900) ones. I dunno about you, but I’m thinking that perhaps we should find out if the auditor has a mate in the extinguisher business.

 It would appear that while we have replaced the old Survey with a new system, we haven’t quite been able to remove some of the insanity that went along with it. Anyway, my Auditor seems like a nice enough lady, and since NZQA ‘forgot all about me’ (twice) last year and didn’t turn up for the Audit – which I hope is reported in their Critical Incident Records for an Inquiry and Subsequent Corrective Action – I’m sure they’re going to be cooperative. I will let you know how I get on.

Carpe Diem

Steve Punter ANZIM, Dip Bus (PMER), FHRINZ
Staff Training Associates Ltd, Auckland, New Zealand.
© Steve Punter 2003 All rights reserved by the author.

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