26 Mar 2021

TSMS Template: Are they worth it

Subchapter M ushered in a new era for the inland water companied within the US in the towing industry. The need for the regulation was driven by the many accidents that occurred on the inland waters of the US owing substandard vessels and incompetent personnel in use. As companies struggle to meet the requirements of the new regulation, those opting for the TSMS option seek documentation templates that will ease the implementation efforts. At first glance these seem the ideal solution and a quick band aid to heal a new wound. However, in the long run companies will find that these templates slowly start failing and the damage they cause can be quite long lasting.

Subchapter M through the regulation seeks to usher in greater safety standards for vessels to enable safer operations as also protection of the marine environment. As with any change there was tremendous push back against the regulation to the extent that it took 10 years to come into force. Companies however are working to a tighter deadline to implement these regulations. As such it is in their best interests to minimize the change needed to enable greater buy-in. Templates will not enable this and will be analogous to fitting a square peg in a round hole.

For a TSMS complaint with subchapter M to work, the company should begin by identifying what is already documented. This documentation should be reviewed to ensure that it accurately captures the As-is of the operations as they are done on board or in the office. Once the system as it exists today is identified it is not time to compare it against the subchapter M regulations and note the gaps. These gaps that can then be filled in with new processes. Whenever new processes are being developed the organization should determine the feasibility of implementing them including the provision of resources.
Subchapter M requires a lot of training to be done but training alone will not enable buy-in from the personnel.

In order for the system to succeed and for all personnel to embrace it, there is a need to keep them involved in the development of the system from the outset. As processes are captured gain their inputs on the challenges they currently face or may potentially face. Based on available recourses identify automation options or engineering controls to reduce the chance of human error.

A TSMS thus developed based on what is done makes it easier for personnel to implement. It results in smaller changes, a well-accepted and thus well implemented system. Subchapter M regulations do not guarantee safe operations. They do however increase the likelihood of safe operations and a willing workforce increases that likelihood.