Drug and alcohol abuse can have significant negative impacts on seafarers and their ability to perform their duties effectively and safely. Even though the maritime industry has acknowledged this topic and begun to address it, incidents continue to happen. Therefore, a bigger emphasis on prevention is necessary to better address this problem.
espite the fact that it is illegal to use or possess illegal or over-the-counter medications, alcohol may still be consumed on some ships. In particular, as per IMO STCW, companies are required to implement a clearly stated drug and alcohol policy while many are those shipowners who have enforced a stringent no alcohol ban on board due to the evident safety danger that alcohol consumption poses.
Effects of drug and alcohol abuse on seafarers
- Impaired judgment: Drugs and alcohol impair cognitive functions and coordination, which are crucial for safe operation of a ship and response to emergencies.
- Enhanced risk of accidents: Seafarers under the influence are more prone to accidents, both onboard and during port operations, endangering their own lives, the lives of their crewmates, and the environment.
- Decreased alertness: Substance abuse can lead to reduced alertness, attention, and concentration, affecting a seafarer’s ability to monitor the ship’s systems effectively.
- Health issues: Long-term substance abuse can lead to serious health problems like liver damage, cardiovascular issues, mental health disorders, and addiction.
- Conflict and misbehavior: Substance abuse can contribute to conflicts with fellow crew members, insubordination, and other forms of misconduct, which disrupt the ship’s operations and crew morale.
Guidance for Shipping Companies
Shipping companies have a responsibility to ensure the health and safety of their crew members by providing guidance and support to prevent drug and alcohol abuse. By implementing the following measures, shipping companies can significantly reduce the risk of drug and alcohol abuse among seafarers, ensuring safer operations and the well-being of their crews.
- Clear policies: Develop and communicate clear policies on drug and alcohol use onboard, including zero tolerance for substance abuse during work hours and while on duty.
- Education and training: Provide mandatory education and training programs for all crew members about the dangers of substance abuse, its impact on safety, and the company’s policies.
- Testing procedures: Establish random drug and alcohol testing procedures to deter substance abuse and ensure compliance with the company’s policies.
- Access to support: Offer confidential counseling and support services for seafarers who may be struggling with substance abuse, mental health issues, or personal problems.
- Wellness programs: Implement wellness programs that promote healthy lifestyles, including physical exercise, mental health support, and stress management techniques.
- Emergency response: Include guidelines in the company’s policies for responding to substance-related incidents, such as immediate removal from duty, medical evaluations, and appropriate disciplinary actions.
- Port visits: Provide information to crew members about the potential legal and health consequences of substance abuse in different ports, as regulations can vary widely.
- Promote a positive environment: Foster a work environment that encourages open communication and peer support, reducing the stigma associated with seeking help for substance abuse or mental health issues.
- Regular audits and reviews: Conduct regular audits of the company’s policies and procedures related to substance abuse prevention to ensure their effectiveness and make improvements as needed.
- Collaboration with Industry Bodies: Stay informed about industry best practices and collaborate with relevant organizations to address substance abuse issues on a broader scale.
Striking a balance is crucial
Overall, it is of outmost importance to foster a culture of drug- and alcohol-free work operations, encouraging education and training, and raising awareness of the risks associated with drug and alcohol addiction among seafarers.
However, ensuring the welfare of seafarers is equally crucial. Alcohol prohibition may increase safety, but it may also jeopardize a seafarer’s wellness, which can have far-reaching effects beyond safety issues. If there isn’t enough social connection, mariners may be tempted to use drugs or alcohol to kill their boredom.
In that regard, when a shipowner creates its alcohol policy, it must strike a balance and focus on enhancing seafarers’ social wellbeing to avoid seafarers from getting bored or emotionally distressed if alcohol is prohibited on board.