Quality Magazine

Quality Observations: Preventing the Titanic Disaster 100 Years Later

April 19, 2012
Let's examine how health and safety systems, risk management, and other quality management principles could have been applied to prevent this tragedy.

Source: IBS America, Inc.


One hundred years ago this month, the world witnessed one of the most tragic maritime disasters of all time: the sinking of the Titanic. Owners and operators of ship manufacturers at the time were taking larger and larger risks to save money for years, and after 1,517 people lost their lives that day, safety standards and attitudes were changed almost overnight. Let's examine how health and safety systems, risk management, and other quality management principles could have been applied to prevent this tragedy.

1) Not enough lifeboats for passengers onboard. One of the more famous issues surrounding this tragedy, Titanic carried only 20 lifeboats with a total capacity of 1,178 people with a total of 2,228 passengers onboard. At the time, this amount of lifeboats and lifeboat capacity was more than it was required to carry by law: and only sufficient to carry around half of those on board.

As a result of the Titanic sinking, The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) was established in 1914. It passed regulations that required ships to carry enough lifeboats for all those on board.

2) Limited crew experience and resources. Even if there had been enough lifeboats for all passengers, the crew lacked sufficient employee training in using them. Additionally, there were no binoculars provided for the lookout crew members, and thus the iceberg was seen too late. Lastly, due in part to the technology, there was an extremely slow response of other ships to the Titanic's distress calls. Effective enterprise risk management requires that employees have the training, qualifications, and resources they need to do their job and to do it well.

Some initiatives established after the Titanic sank include The International Ice Patrol was established to monitor north Atlantic icebergs that may pose a threat to transatlantic sea traffic. The Radio Act of 1912, which requires the radios of all passenger ships to be in operation 24 hours a day, and to have a secondary power supply, in order to prevent distress calls being missed. Ships were also told to maintain greater contact with nearby vessels.

3) Ship Speed. Hurry to make, and beat, scheduled Titanic arrival deadline in New York City contributed to the impact the iceburg hit had on the ship itself. This focus on performance, chastised in Deming's 14 Points, severely damage the quality assurance process. Employees-and in this case, the crew-should have a calm and quiet atmosphere in order to do their jobs, and to do them well.

4) Over-confidence: The Titanic was an "unsinkable" ship. Quite simply, this attitude permeated the passengers and crew and affected evacuation efforts. Both parties did not believe the ship was capable of sinking, and thus took procedures and commands less seriously initially because the importance of the standards was not enforced.

5) Overall ship design. The overall design of theTitanic was also criticized as being a factor in the sinking. The ship was not designed from an engineering perspective, but rather as a vehicle of luxury. The design and strength of the hull, as well as the small size of rudder that did not enable the ship to turn quickly when the iceburg was spotted, forever changed the regulations and production quality control for future construction of vessels.

In October 1912 Titanic’s sister ship Olympic was brought back to Harland and Wolff shipyard for quality assurance and quality control improvements to prevent any other accidents like Titanic’s. Some of the immediate changes made to Olympic included giving the hull another layer of steel for reinforcement. The shipyard made great strides to ensure Olympic was safe and to regain the public’s trust.

While there were some elements of bad luck involved in the sinking of the Titanic, such as calm weather conditions that made the iceberg difficult to see, the bottom line to this tragedy were the shortcuts taken so that Titanic could be the most competitive in the market; be the most luxurious; and make the most money. This competitiveness drove to cutting compliance to safety measures, which are crucial within the maritime industry.

And if we take a step back from the Titanic and look at the broader scope of crusie ship safety and risk management, we now have the issue of better organizing and enforcing these standards and safety initiatives. Ensuring that procedures are up-to-date is not only important for crusie ships, but for any organization that wishes to promote a safe and positive workplace and customer experience.



Sources:
  • Olympic Gets Refitted
  • Cruise ship safety: timeline of disasters and safety regulations
  • The Titanic Disaster: An Enduring Example of Money Management vs. Risk Management