F1 highlights the road ahead for port safety data

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Published: Jun 21, 2024

PSS hosted a high-level dinner in London on Tuesday 18 June to discuss the value of data to improve port safety.

The group of 22 port chief executives and senior safety managers heard a keynote speech from Mark Gallagher, a Formula One commentator and analyst who has spent over 30 years in motor racing and was instrumental in harnessing data to reduce driver fatalities from over 40 between 1950 and 1994 to just one since.

Mark explained that, despite being a highly competitive sport, the entire F1 sector had come together following the death of world champion Ayrton Senna in agreement that no one should die doing their job.

He said that data analysis had revolutionised the sport, enabling thousands of simulations to be run before every race covering every eventuality until there were ‘no longer unforeseen risks, only risks’. This analysis led to advances in car and design and driver protective clothing which mean that when Romain Grosjean crashed in the 2020 Bahrain Grand Prix and his car burst into flames, he was able to walk away with only hand injuries. Mark explained that the hand injuries were the result of a fault in the design of the driver’s gloves and because every detail of the accident was shared across the sector, they were also able to eliminate that risk.

The audience of CEOs at the VIP dinner

Like the port sector, Mark acknowledged that not every safety initiative was welcomed by all, indeed the halo design which places drivers into a protective shell was almost unanimously hated by those working in Formula One and its fans. That was until it saved Lewis Hamilton when he was involved in a crash which would have otherwise killed him, during the Italian Grand Prix in 2021.

In an informative and insightful Q&A session following the speech Mr Gallagher explained that data alone isn’t enough, and that real safety change comes from using that data analysis to bring about a culture change.

‘The change in culture has not been easy to achieve,’ he admitted. ‘We’ve had to use a stick and carrot approach.’

Safety is a non-negotiable. No matter how competitive, time sensitive or financially important something is, safety must be the hard stop.

Mark Gallagher on how F1 has became safer

Chief among those changes has been to address the gender diversity in the sport. Mr Gallagher said that the previous ‘macho testosterone charged environment’ led to long working hours, a drinking culture and very little to no welfare or other health support. Today, they operate a buddy system for all new staff, have zero alcohol polices and diet and welfare provision.

The sport also made concentrated efforts to employ more women in the 2000s, a time when they were struggling to recruit new engineers due to competition from the automotive industry.
Mark said: ‘We started a whole series of programmes aimed at school age children and undergraduates, to try and get more women into engineering.

‘Hannah Schmitz, the chief data scientist for Red Bull Racing, was an undergraduate engineer when she was recruited, having never even heard of Formula One – eight years later, she’s heading up their race strategy.’

He said that increasing the number of women working in the sport had definitely led to better communication and an increase in sharing information, especially for the benefit of safety.
‘The whole sport has become more professional,’ Mark added. ‘With clear roles, responsibilities and accountability, and the thread of safety running through everything that we do.’

Mr Gallagher added that another important issue that he would recommend to the ports sector was that safety was a ‘non-negotiable’, that no matter how competitive, time sensitive or financially important something is, safety must be the hard stop.

Stuart Wallace addresses PSS members at the VIP dinner
Stuart Wallace addresses PSS members at the VIP dinner

Following the dinner, Mark Rushton from PSS member Comet – the main sponsor of the event – spoke about how a relatively small investment in health and safety resources in ports could have a much greater impact on overall performance and profitability than the equivalent investment in some other areas of the business.

Mr Rushton said that the next step for ports was to provide much more information on incidents and near misses, including the resulting investigations, so that AI could be fully harnessed to identify root causes and eliminate repeat failure.

PSS Chief Executive, Debbie Cavaldoro wrapped up the event by encouraging all the CEOs present to go back to their workplaces and examine what data and information they collect and ensure it is all being used to its greatest potential.

‘Over the next few months PSS will be talking a lot about data and how we can use it,’ she concluded. ‘We will be encouraging all members to engage with us and provide the data that we need to get a sector-wide view of safety, and the root causes of incidents to ensure that we can learn safety lessons as an industry, and thus avoid a high-level serious incident.’
The conversation will continue at the PSS annual data meeting being held on Wednesday 25 September in Liverpool.

This is an AI image of a port with data overlaid

PSS calls for sector improvements to data collection

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