Why we became a CIfA Registered Organisation

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In March 2020 we were delighted to receive our Registered Organisation status from the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists (CIfA). In this blog Alison James explains why we decided to apply and what this means to us.

Over the last nine years MSDS Marine have grown from Mark James and Bjorn Melin operating a survey vessel, through to Mark going out on his own as a marine archaeological contractor, to one of the largest maritime archaeology companies in the UK with nine full time permanent members of staff as well as having many regular freelance divers and specialists on our books. Our growth has been fast and during that time we have had to implement many new systems to ensure that our quality has been maintained as we have grown.

This seems like a good point to shed some light on what our name means as we are constantly asked. Bjorn comes from Swedish heritage and in Swedish (and latin) Marna means from the sea or star of the sea. Mark and Bjorn’s first survey vessel was called Marna and subsequently as the business developed into a marine archaeological contracting business Marna Scientific Diving Services (MSDS was born). Today we are simply known as MSDS Marine and if you ask any of the team what it stands for you will get multiple answers of varying degrees of hilarity!

Our high standards are recognised in our ISO 9001 : 2015 and ISO 45001 : 2018 certifications. We operate an effective and robust ISO 9001 : 2015 Quality Management System that enables our clients to have confidence in our work and ensures that our management systems are constantly assessed and approved. MSDS Marine are committed to creating an environment which is safe, healthy and secure for all our employees. We operate a certified ISO 45001 : 2018 Occupational Health and Safety Management System that fulfils the objectives of maintaining the excellent record of MSDS Marine in relation to health and safety and to ensure all our legal requirements as an employer are met. Green thinking is a key part of our culture and we identify opportunities to reduce our environmental impact wherever possible. In short, we have ticked many recognised standards and we have seen the benefits these have had for us as a company, not only with our perception externally but also with how things actually work better internally!

Why a CIfA Registered Organisation and why now?

We have always paid 100% of our employees’ membership fees with the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists and the team are encouraged to regularly review their membership level through our Personal Development Review (PDR) process. All MSDS Marine employees are bound to abide by the CIfA Code of Conduct and work in accordance with CIfA’s defined policies and procedures and to comply with current good practice.

Our team is an incredibly strong one. We all have different strengths and these are recognised internally and our team are deployed in a way that maximises on them. We had always taken the opinion that individual membership of CIfA was enough for us but then a comment at a meeting with a client from another archaeological contractor questioning our professionalism due to lack of RO statues made us start to question this. In early 2019 at a Management Review meeting the management team of Mark, Sally and myself, decided that in order to continue to grow as a company it was time to take the plunge and apply for CIfA Registered Organisation status. MSDS Marine have always striven to provide a high-quality service to our clients to all current archaeological standards. We recognised the importance of the Registered Organisation scheme in demonstrating the quality of our work, the standards to which we work and, highlighting our contribution to the protection of the historic. Becoming a Registered Organisation with CIfA was the next logical step in our development as an organisation and we could see that it would provide additional recognition for the services we provide.

The Process

I was given the task of leading on our Registered Organisation application. At first, I must admit it was slightly dauting; the application form is extensive and in parts more than a little repetitive and confusing. That said, when I actually started the application, I was delighted to see that through our existing internal systems we ticked so many of the requirements that in reality little work, save for putting pen to paper and completing the form, was required. We submitted our application in October 2019 but then had to wait until February 2020 for an inspection.

The inspection itself was actually a lovely process. It gave the Management Team the chance to really showcase the work that MSDS Marine do and we all thoroughly enjoyed meeting with Kerry and the rest of the inspection team. The inspection team then reported back to MSDS Marine with their findings. We received a long report which identified many areas where we had impressed the panel and only two areas of comment. The first was that we should look to implement a structured training plan for careers starters. We have subsequently addressed this and developed our existing plans into something more formal that we can use in future. The second point was that our lone working policy needed better communication internally, again, we have acted on this and implemented changes to ensure everyone knows about the policy and what to do if lone working. We were given the opportunity to check the report and then it was circulated to the CIfA committee who met on the 11th March to make a decision.

This week we heard that our application was successful and that we are now a Registered Organisation. In three years we will need to reapply and inspected again in 2022 for the 2023 – 26 registration period – something that we are now looking forward to having been through the process once.

The Future

We are confident that having achieved Registered Organisation status will provide additional assurance to our clients that we have the requisite skills to:

  • Provide informed and reliable advice, and to,
  • Execute schemes of work appropriate to the circumstances, minimising uncertainty, delay and cost

One of the real strengths of MSDS Marine is that public engagement and outreach are at the heart of all we do. This was recognised at the inspection and led to interesting discussions about how we could do even more. Since the meeting we have even had a discussion with one of our clients about how we can include more outreach work in marine development projects. We are positive we may be able to do even more in future.

We look forward to our next inspection in three years’ time as it will offer another opportunity to reflect on our practice and celebrate what we do.

We are happy to provide advice based on our experiences and we’d encourage anyone thinking about applying for Registered Organisation status to do it.

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