The problem of ensuring the safety and health of seafarers has been for many years a great matter of concern to governments, ship owners and seafarers. Despite the progress that has been made in this field over the years, seafaring remains a risky occupation. But how about the social life of seafarers? Does it have any connection with their safety? And if so, what can be done to ensure a continuous safe environment?
As in any other workplace, life onboard has its own pros and cons, but increased workload and isolation are certainly some of its unique characteristics. Undoubtedly, at the end of a long day full of work, there is little energy left for social interactions.
In fact, the issue of recreation onboard was at the center of concerns for seafarers during the latest SAFETY4SEA Crew Wellness Survey. Across a sample of 9,768 seafarers from every part of the world, there were many respondents who touched upon the issue, proposing additional entertainment opportunities for better socializing and relaxing or a bigger focus by the shipowner on team activities.
How does seafarers’ social life affect work performance
A 2019 SAFETY4SEA poll identified the following five to be the main obstacles to social life onboard:
- Increased workload/ Fatigue – 38%
- Technology and Internet onboard – 19%
- New legislation and subsequent bureaucracy – 17%
- Lack of team bonding and team activities – 16%
- Remoteness from home and close friends – 10%
Meanwhile, isolation from family, low wages, lack of interaction with co-workers, limited connectivity, length of contract and lack of shore leave, even quality and quantity of food onboard, all have a major impact on seafarer’s mood and subsequently their social life.
Taking these into consideration, a lck of proper social life on board creates the experience of stress and fatigue, which may threaten availability for work, safety awareness and effectiveness of work behavior, the quality of working life and both psychological and physical health.
An optimum amount of stress exists for most peoplem with most tasks, and job performance tending to be best at low and moderate amounts of ordinary stress. However, when exposed to too much stress, people become temporarily ineffective because they become distracted.
If seafarers experience and express the effects of stress at work, the problem assumes organization proportions. The possible effects of stress of more direct concern to organizations appear to be the following:
- Reduced availability for work, absenteeism and poor time-keeping.
- Impaired work performance and productivity (quantity and quality).
- Increased unsafe behavior, near-miss and accident rates.
- Increase in complaints from food or nature of work.
In order for seafarers to overcome stress, they need to take care of their own mental health while on board. Key steps to overcome stress on board are:
- Think positively: always keep in mind positive thoughts and do more of what makes you happy
- Talk and discuss: try not to be lonely and discuss as much as possible your thoughts with others
- Take a breath: when you feel pressure, just pause for a moment and take attention on your breathing to feel calm
- Time management: organize your work and spend quality time when off duty.
Fatigue has now been accepted as a multi-factorial problem. Previously, it was linked only to physical exertion, but the various forms of mental fatigue are now also recognized and there is a growing realization that physical and mental fatigue are frequently linked.
In fact, a recent MARTHA Fatigue Report revealed that fatigue has safety and long-term physical and mental health implications. These may may lead to increased sleepiness, loss of sleep quality, reduced motivation which could contribute to ‘near-misses’ and accidents onboard.
The prevention of fatigue requires a careful assessment of all many factors, such as the type and intensity of the physical effort,the relationship between the crewmembers, and sychological climate. Making a correct allowance for these factors may not only reduce fatigue but also directly affect the efficiency of seafarers.
Of course, it goes without saying that if you are in an environment that you do not think is good for you, then the job satisfaction drops significantly.
Job satisfaction has many important consequences to the individual and the ship, as a high job satisfaction leads to better cooperation, thus improving teamwork, and the social life of the ship overall. On the other hand, low job satisfaction may lead seafarers to be absent from social gatherings on the ship, thus taking a toll on the overall team work on board.
As a result, people with job dissatisfaction are more liable to have accidents. Specifically, inattention is a poor safety practice related to job dissatisfaction and inattention leads directly to accidents.
How to ensure a good social life onboard
Seafarers welfare should be expanded in a number of areas, including better communications between seafarers and their families ashore.
In fact, connectivity is now a very important problem for seafarers. According to the Mission to Seafarers, data presents that crews who have good quality, low-cost access to the internet and good communication with their families are far happier than those who do not. This is an encouraging indication of the benefits to seafarers from widespread improvements to connectivity at sea.
Better communications between seafarers and their families ashore, links with their home communities, and the provision of a wider range of educational services onboard ship., are all very beneficial to seafarers.
However, on the other side, seafarers are not happy with the time space, encouragement and ability to keep fit and healthy. These are vital components of everyone’s social life, and are very important to seafarers as well. Nevertheless, it seems that crewmembers are not happy with how this aspect is right now; an area that the shipping industry must work on.