Recently named the director of safety and sustainability at American Waterways Operators (AWO), the national advocate for the U.S. tugboat, towboat and barge industry, Michael Breslin is no stranger to the industry.
Prior to this role, Breslin spent nearly 13 years at Turn Services, New Orleans, La., as a port captain, safety and compliance manager, and in other roles. He also served in the Louisiana Army National Guard for eight years before his tenure at Turn Services.
With safety and sustainability at the forefront of many in maritime’s minds, we wanted to get Breslin’s thoughts on where the industry is now and where’s it’s going.
Marine Log (ML): First, congrats on your new role. Prior to joining AWO, you worked for Turn Services for over 12 years. Can you tell us how your experience from that position will influence your new role?
Mike Breslin (MB): Turn Services was my introduction to the maritime industry, and I still vividly remember walking onto my first vessel assignment aboard the M/V Whirlaway. It was like I had discovered a secret world just past the batture, and I knew almost instantly that I had found my calling. That experience and knowledge of how it works on the deck level is what shapes my approach in every role I have had since I came shoreside a decade ago. I am inspired by the work our mariners do and I am honored to work for them in this new chapter of my career.
ML: What are your top priorities as AWO’s new director of safety?
MB: People are my top priority. Building a sustainable fleet for the future is what will ensure the next generation enjoys the same incredible experience I have had working on America’s marine highways. As I work at AWO to advance the safety culture and sustainability of our industry, my priority will always be to support the men and women that are the heartbeat of American maritime commerce.
ML: As COVID continues to spread across the world in waves, how should tug, towboat and barge companies deal with new mandates and guidelines?
MB: Every manager and human resources professional has dealt with unprecedented challenges over the course of this pandemic. Like many others, I have lost family members and friends to this virus. I have also seen people put out of work or driven to another career because of overly broad or inconsiderate policy. The posture of the maritime community has always been flexible to manage the unexpected, and that is the way we will have to approach each iteration of this soon-to-be endemic virus. Policies that protect the safety of our mariners is top priority.
The foundation of those policies must be informed by complete data sets that include consideration for the economic, emotional, and physical health of our mariners. It is our duty to consider how our decisions affect the holistic well-being of our fellow mariners.
ML: What are some often overlooked safety issues that our industry can improve on?
MB: I believe in prevention. The ability to collect data from leading indicators is something that gets lost in the processes of many safety departments. Identifying trends and directing resources toward lowering the chance of an accident is the cornerstone of a well-run risk management program.
In my new role at AWO, I want to support the managers’ ability to get real-time information from their operation that most impacts the success of their program. Successful safety managers have solid relationships with their team, gained through servant leadership and old-fashioned boots-on-the-ground strategy.
ML: What do you most want people to know about you and maritime safety?
MB: Maritime safety is not a gift. It is cultivated through good policy and hard work. I believe in a simple philosophy to support safety programs: Trust your leaders to do their job, give them the tools they need to succeed, and support them as they strive to make positive changes.
By showing support for the individuals in your organization that are working toward improvement, you will end up surrounded by people who want to do the right thing because they know you have their back.