Safety at Sea and wellness at Sea… Is it easy to see the connection? Many shipping companies and their human resources departments approach them as two separate efforts. Probably because FOR SOME WELLNES IS BEING ASSOCITED WITH COSMETICS and HAIRS or NAILS as part of beauty industry. And yes this word is used in this context but NOT THIS TIME.

Fundamentally our Wellness-at-Sea programme asks a very simple question “How are you doing?”  It is a seemingly easy question, but if you start to really think about it you soon realize that it is a complex and multi-dimensional question and probably one of the most profound questions we as human beings answer on a day to day basis. So, what does it mean to be well? The holistic wellness approach argues that to be well you cannot only be well in one aspect of life, rather you must be well in all aspects of your life.

It seems that, traditionally, industry thought of seafarers as only ‘occupational’ human beings.  In other words, the only thing that defined a good seafarer was whether or not they were able to sale from port A to port B.

In our definition wellness is the holistic nature of us as human beings and it is more than just the occupational side of who we are. It also includes who we are as emotional, spiritual,  physical, social and intellectual human beings.   It includes how seafarers experience life at sea, how they react to an incident, or how they steer a ship; all these are related to them as an organised whole – a holistic, multi-dimensional and unique human being.

Getting back to Safety at Sea it is all about compliance to QSHE regulations and the implementation of various procedures on board. Wellness at sea in this context may be viewed slightly less seriously. To someone’s point of view it’s typically voluntary and extends beyond work into seafarers’ personal lifestyle.

However, these initiatives are more connected than most of us realize. Both safety on board and seafarers’ wellness will have a direct impact on productivity, sick pays & crew claims, reputation and eventually the overall profitability of a shipping company.

Generally speaking safety can be referred as “health protection” while wellness as “health promotion.” And Today’s best evidence indicates that the aims of both health protection and health promotion interventions are best achieved when they are working in concert.

Here are some things to consider why implementing the programs involving safety and wellness and how one will directly affect the other.

Most of us heard that good sleeping and eating habits improve safety and it is a part of physical wellness

Accidents can happen when seafarers experience tiredness or lack of focus. Proper rest and nutrition are common components of wellness and good health, and studies show they can also impact workplace safety.

Among the most recent studies of fatigue as a workplace hazard was identified as the most common cause of human error and incidents. Researchers also point to the following workplace problems associated with fatigue.

Is it quite apparent how those issues like:

  • Longer reaction time
  • Reduction of alertness
  • Poor psychometric coordination
  • Information processing difficulty
  • Decreased task motivation
  • Memory problems
  • Impaired concentration

could directly impact safety and productivity? Another study, found that the risk of workplace injury doubles in employees with sleep disorders.

Poor diet and mismanaged body weight can also impact safety. The Cost of Obesity in the Workplace, a study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Work Environment & Health, indicated that not only do overweight and obese workers add more to an employer’s healthcare costs, they are also more likely to suffer a workplace injury. And this one is applicable to Maritime sector as well.

Encouraging employees to adopt healthy eating habits can help them manage their weight and improve aspects of productivity, such as memory, focus and sustained energy levels. Staying fit to stay safe whether it’s strenuous work on bridge, engine room or a deck job, physical fitness will help seafarers to avoid many common workplace injuries.

This is why our wellness program which is encouraging comprehensive physical fitness may be beneficial to workplace safety.

Safety and wellness include mental aspects as well as a focus on emotional wellness.

Consider Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Near the bottom of that pyramid, just above food, water and rest, you’ll find safety. Those basic needs must be met before a seafarer can truly function at their best.

Whether your crew member feels in danger due to the nature of the job or because of less apparent threats to security, improving safety on your ship has the potential to reduce stress and boost productivity.

Shea (2005:129) quotes studies where the strong correlation between prolonged periods away from supportive social structures and poor mental health is proven.  It also shows a strong correlation with an increase in the frequency of occurrence of accidents.  Shea (2005:53) in his discussion of seafarers’ mental health, uses seven independent studies suggesting that seafarers seemed to be more affected by mental illnesses than any other ailment, with officers being more prone than ratings.   These studies also suggest a strong correlation between psychiatric illnesses and a decreased ability of the seafarer to cope with job expectations and a negative impact on the safety culture of a ship.

When you’re under stress, one of the things that is on your mind is the source of the stress. It creates a distraction. Let’s say you’ve got an info about a problem at home but you need to accomplish your work on board  and you’re climbing a ladder or you’re on scaffolding doing painting works. While you’re walking along on the scaffolding, part of your attention is on where you’re walking and what you’re doing, but also part of your attention is on your problem at home. Loss of focus or inattention is a major cause of injury.”

This suggests the idea why we are talking about mental health and give attention to coping techniques. It can help to prevent accidents due to the distraction of mental or emotional stress.

We introduce suicide prevention modules in a frame of our Wellness-at-Sea and Crisis-at-Sea Response programmme trainings for seafarers and companies personnel. Crisis-Response Modules are separate trainings given both to officers, ratings, crewing agencies and shipping companies HR departments aimed at setting up a direct communication rules between seafarers and companies. We know that in cases where a company avoids to talk directly to seafarers or does it in vague or ambiguous way that adds to stress, produces misunderstandings and leads to disobedience. That’s why proper communication training for companies suggested by CRN can be a great tool in overcoming these obstacles.

Social Wellness

Socially, seafaring presents many challenges. Crewmembers not only work with each other but, when they complete their work, they have to live in the same social environment as their work-mates (Shea, 2005:29).

There seem to be many rules, regulations and conventions in place in an effort to govern the social space.  Communication is, for example, governed by conventions such as the STCW, the MLC and ISM code, but if you, however, look at incident reports, it is evident that it is the interpersonal skills and interpersonal communication that fail seafarers.  Inadequate communication is listed as one of the three main factors in shipping accidents (Rothblum, 2000:8) The solution is not more regulation but, instead, a stronger focus on relational skills.

The fourth module of the Programme tends to is Intellectual Wellness.

Intellectual wellness is how one engages in creative and stimulating activities and the use of resources to expand knowledge and focus on the acquisition, development, application, and articulation of critical thinking (Foster & Keller, 2007:13).

Intellectual wellness in seafaring implies more than current knowledge application, extending to knowledge that falls outside of the traditional realm of knowledge thought to be relevant to seafaring.  This includes knowledge about seafarers’ rights, piracy and financial matters.

Enhanced knowledge will ensure better mediation of day-to-day rights incidents, by negotiating incidents with confidence and adequate comprehension.  Not only will companies benefit, but the severe stress factor associated with rights abuses will be reduced.

According to Koenig, Levin and Chatters (in Gall et al. 2005:88) beliefs facilitate an active attitude toward coping and a strengthening of social support in response to stress. Spirituality also operates as a mediating factor in stress coping processes.

It is not proposed that seafarers now specialise in religious or spiritual studies.  Wellness-at-Sea SPIRITUALITY Module should create an awareness of their own beliefs and how they influence responses and actions.  A safe reflective space could, for example, be created where seafarers can focus on identification of potential spiritual coping mediators as part of a strategy to understand and prepare for life at sea.

The aim is to take seafarers on a journey of self-exploration.  We do not want to pretend that we are experts of the lives of seafarers.  We believe that they are the experts of their own lives.  We want to create a space in which seafarers can grow and start a meaningful conversation on how to be better seafarers, better husbands, better wives and better parents.  We believe that this programme will be a positive step in building communities on board vessels.



Above text is an edited version of Mr. Alex’s Dimitrevich presentation during the SAFETY4SEA Conference in Hamburg

View his video presentation herebelow


The views presented hereabove are only those of the author and not necessarily those of  SAFETY4SEA and are for information sharing and discussion  purposes only.


Alexander Dimitrevich, Regional Crisis Response and Wellness Programme Co-ordinator, Sailors’ Society

Alexander is a Clinical Psychologist, who did his master’s degree scientific work at Odessa National State University, and is also candidate for a PHD in Clinical Sociology. Since March 2016, he has been working for Sailors’ Society as Regional Crisis Response and Wellness Programme Co-ordinatorAlexander is trained and experienced in organising and providing support for trauma survivors, helping seafarers affected by piracy and their family members. He has a Maritime Lloyd’s Academy Diploma in Crew Management and is a March on Stress associate. Alexander is qualified in Trauma Risk Management (TRiM Practitioner/Manager) and previously worked as Maritime Piracy Humanitarian Response Programme (MPHRP) Regional Director in Eastern Europe. Alexander is co-author and trainer of Three Layer Psychosocial support system for trauma survivors which has been utilized as a basic training model for non-psychologists in Ukraine.