In the 1980s, a number of maritime accidents occurred which were manifestly attributed to human errors which were described by Lord Justice Sheen as “the disease of sloppiness.”

Beginning in 1989 IMO began addressing these issues with a result being the establishment of the ISM Code in 1998. The Code establishes safety-management objectives and requires a safety management system (SMS) to be established by "the Company", which is defined as the shipowner or any person, such as the manager or bareboat charterer, who has assumed responsibility for operating the ship.

The Company is then required to establish and implement a policy for achieving these objectives. This includes providing the necessary resources and shore-based support. Every company is expected ”to designate a person or persons ashore having direct access to the highest level of management.” The procedures required by the Code should be documented and compiled in a Safety Management Manual, a copy of which should be kept on board.

Where most maritime regulations are focused on the design and condition of the physical vessel, the ISM Code is focused on people in the organization and those people working together to operate the vessels through a safety culture that spanned from the most junior employee to the most senior.