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Seafarer wellness and how to improve it

Leaders of the marine HR community share their thoughts on what more can be done for the crew to improve seafarer wellness.

From innovative technological advances to better leadership, there is a great array of things that the industry can do to improve life at sea. Seafarers often experience shortcomings in the quality of life on board, giving the maritime industry a bad press, and potentially ruining the opportunities to recruit newcomers.

Here, we asked 6 experts’ opinions on how the industry could improve seafarer wellness.

Watch the video or read their responses below.

Alexander Avanth, Future Education Specialist, Dare Disrupt

“I think that mental health is by far the most important thing to keep an eye on because it’s very hard to diagnose. Now with affective computing and facial algorithms, we are starting to get an understanding of what emotions go through an individual and we can start to plot out, basically to track and follow, individuals if they are to become emotionally troubled. So, my take on this is to focus a bit more on what technology can do to help them: wearable technology, facial recognition, etc. while on the ship. Then prevent it early, instead of helping them once damage has happened.”

KD Adamson, Futurist & CEO, Futurenautics

“When it comes to the wellness and the wellbeing of seafarers, let’s be clear, there are some fantastic ship managers and ship operators out there who train their crews well and look after them well. But equally, there are some rotten apples in the barrel, and I think as we move into this new era of radical transparency, that is coming to every industry and it will come to shipping, it’s actually going to be increasingly easy to identify and call out those people who don’t treat their crews properly, an equally who don’t look after cargoes, don’t treat their counterparties well, etc.

Generally speaking, ship operators who don’t treat their crews well are probably not very good ship operators. And it may be that the barrier to entry the shipping industry are going to rise as we go forward, but that radical transparency is going to make these abuses far more obvious and if as an industry we can come together with other stakeholders like cargo owners and regulators, and actually find a new paradigm where we can identify these people and stop them trading, then I think that would be a benefit across the board.”

John Lloyd, Chief Executive Officer, The Nautical Institute

“I think we continue to battle with some of the key messages about safety for seafarers, sometimes either because of the urgency of the situation or sometimes because of complacency we don’t take sufficient care. When we look at accidents with slips, trips, and falls, they continue to occur. But more importantly, when we go into enclosed spaces, it’s very important that we follow proper procedures, prepare the seafarers for the entry into those places, and make sure that they are taking all the proper precautions and that we’re not taking shortcuts. We all have a responsibility in that regard.”

Professor Helen Sampson, Director, Seafarers International Research Centre

“I think they need to do a lot of thing differently, some of them about going back to the past in a way, and picking up on things they used to do rather well but they seemed to have got neglected lately. For example, encouraging more communal activity on board in a positive way, not by reducing access to internet, which is what some companies like to talk about, but actually by increasing the spaces that are available for seafarers to mix. Perhaps returning to allowing seafarers to have barbecues on board ships, thinking carefully about implementing dry ship (no alcohol) policies, which have social consequences as well as more obvious safety benefits, so thinking about what is the balance that you want to strike there. I think providing more recreational facilities on board…

When I very first went on ships doing research, we used to see basketballs, a squash court sometimes, swimming pools, but all these things have gone, and they haven’t been replaced. The shipping companies are aware that the social life on board diminished, but they seem to be attributing that to internet access, but that’s not actually the case. If you took the internet away, and where there isn’t internet, social life on board has died because the spaces and the things for people to do are not there. So really, the only kinds of options for people are to sit in quite small crew messes together, which is not so comfortable. The seating is not always very good, and it’s to watch DVDs, which is not a social activity, really. So, I think looking at ways to actually bringing back some of that social life on board is really positive.

I also think that in relation to health, thinking about food is very important. Most companies have seen a reduction in the galley staff by half, so they used to have regularly a chief cook, a second cook and two mess men, and now they have a cook and a mess man, and that’s really impacted on the quality of the food on board. So the cook actually has to produce a rather more limited food. They take short-cuts more often, like deep frying everything before it gets cooked in the oven or served. So, I think there are many positive things that could be done to really improve seafarer welfare.

I think it’s an absolute must that seafarers should have access to internet on board, not just email, but actually the internet. Sometimes companies worry that seafarers will be anxious by news from home, but in actual fact, seafarers will always get in contact with home, sometimes maybe in port. It’s much more beneficial to their mental health and wellbeing to be able to be in contact with home when there are problems, so they know that the problem is actually resolved, than it is to sail on a voyage for two weeks, having no idea what’s going on home. I mean, they are just like you and me.

“You get on an aeroplane, have a long flight, and if there’s something gone wrong, just before you leave, you can’t wait to find out that it’s resolved or at least to help give advice to get it to resolve it or to see for yourself how bad it is. When seafarers have problem at home like a sick kid or something like that, actually being involved in advising their partner and maybe seeing the child for themselves and talking to them is really beneficial for them.

Whatever very minor negatives there might be to internet access, they are way outweighed by the positive, just as they are for most of us.”

Yuzuru Goto, Managing Director, K Line LNG Shipping

“I think there’s many things but at K Line, we are focusing a lot on the safety culture, and the maturity of the safety culture of the organisation. What I mean is a place where people can feel safe and vulnerable and being able to admit mistakes and failures. We are a culture where people can embrace failure and admit mistakes. I think that’s an important thing the industry should try.”

Bjarke Jacobsen, Partner, Green-Jakobsen

“To improve on safety, I believe that the industry should focus less on the procedural side of the safety equation. The on-board environment is very dynamic. The procedures we have in our safety management systems are very static. We cannot describe all unforeseen circumstances and situations that we have on board a ship. So instead of considering the procedures as tools, we should consider it as a guideline. It can set out authorities and responsibilities, and we should focus it on behaviours.

“How do we ensure that our team leaders encourage our crew to take active part in the risk assessment process? How can the team leader on the ship encourage an environment where intervention and stop work authority is expected and respected? Now this will be a change. So, behaviour based safety and safety leadership – that will be the way forward.”

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