Ship managers and operators need to keep promoting efforts targeting not only the mental health but also the physical wellness of crew onboard, highlighted experts in a panel discussion during 2023 Crew Welfare Week in last June. Physical Wellness is the direct result of our lifestyle choices and recognizes the need for physical activity, healthy food, sleep and other behaviours that ensure good health.
he panel, moderated by Sandra Psychogiou, Editor In Chief, SAFETY4SEA, focused on ways to further promote a healthy lifestyle at sea. The following experts shared their views: Capt. Konstantinos G. Karavasilis, Regional Director, Loss Prevention, UK P&I Club; Kostas Katsoulieris, Senior Executive (Claims), NorthStandard; William Moore, Global Loss Prevention Director – S.V.P., The American Club; Periclis Tzardis, Chief Medical Advisor, ShipMedCare and; Sandra Welch, CEO, Seafarers Hospital Society.
‘’I am a great believer that prevention is better than cure and thus, in Seafarers Hospital Society our message is about prevention, to ensure that seafarers take care of themselves’’, commented Sandra Welch. In that regard, they encourage seafarers to take care of their physical health, empowering them to do so by creating videos and resources designed for their physical wellbeing.
‘Seafarers are people who work in a unique social environment, so our resources need to be specific for them and guide them in order to create healthy habits and not restrictions.
Moving on, Capt. Kostantinos Karavasilis urged to put the spotlight on physical wellness and important issues such as hygiene and citation to create stricter protocols, as well as seafarers’ education about vaccination and health screening. Overall, Konstantinos stressed the need for the operators and ship managers to enhance their systems for emergency preparedness, mental health, relaxation techniques and recreational activities.
William Moore mentioned how important is to provide PEME programs. As explained, The American Club has mandated a pre-employment medical examination (PEME) programme for seafarers from eight different countries since 2003. Important trends and conclusions about the health of seafarers have been uncovered by data from claims. For example, they have found that many seafarers, particularly those from the Philippines, are required to take medications and taking them regularly. Also, that the health-related issues we see onboard are related to their habits and their lifestyle onshore.
Continuing the discussion, Kostas Katsoulieris said that practical issues, such as sleep and rest, should also be considered. ‘’The quality of sleep the quantity of rest are vital issues; it is just not enough to take a little nap – this will only take the edge off tiredness and long- term tiredness of fatigue. Staying fit and healthy onboard are key focus areas. In that regard, we need to address how to exercise and provide proper nutrition onboard.’’, he pinpointed.
Kostas Katsoulieris also observed that having properly stocked medicine cabinets and PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) are essential at sea. In addition, it is equally necessary to promote knowledge about the difficulties of living and working in a small space for extended periods of time at sea among all parties, from ship management corporations and stakeholders to crew members.
In the post-pandemic era, there is increase alertness when a seafarer has a medical problem noted Periclis Tzardis as a positive outcome. With regards to physical wellness, key priorities remain the well-known ones concerning exercise, healthy food, sleep. ‘’The issue is to keep on reminding to seafarers of these key priorities. It is not a matter of saying it once and forget about it; on the contrary, we should be launching campaigns with bulletins, visitor sessions and zoom meetings for these priorities to become their second nature’’ highlighted Periclis Tzardis.
Key alarming trends to watch out
As Kostas Katsoulieris pointed out, we have to be aware that a ship is it’s not an ordinary working environment. ‘’We are lucky enough to go to our office every morning, do our work and then go back home. However, seafarers go back to their cabin; at the end of their shift, they are still in their working environment, away from shore and their people, sometimes for long periods’’.
As such, it is important to consider the following three risk factors that affect physical wellness onboard: number one that the ship is not an ordinary environment; secondly the type of ship whether it’s tanker, bulk carrier, LNG carrier, passenger ship etc and; thirdly, the areas the ship trades in ports and coastal areas
Continuing the discussions, experts mentioned the following alarming trends:
- Musculoskeletal problems – seafarers suffer from musculoskeletal injuries to the back, knee, neck, or shoulder, especially those crew members that bend and lift heavy objects or remain in static positions for long periods of time. The key risks factors that could happen on board, according to Capt. Konstantinos, are the physical activities that can have an impact on physical wellbeing, such as heavy lifting and strenuous movements. This taxing physical activity can develop into illnesses or injury, specifically muscle and stress related issues.
- Sleep disorders and mental health issues associated with fatigue – jobs on board can be demanding, the work expected from employees can lead to stress and disruptive sleep. When sleep becomes irregular or shortened this can have a negative impact on mental health
- Bad nutrition habits – there is need with proper guidance to help seafarers focusing on healthy food habits to control fat, sugar and salt
- Hypertension, back pain, hemorrhoidal problems and renal colic (kidney stones) are among the major medical conditions found onboard, according to analysis by ShipMedCare which noticed a lack of appropriate and adequate medication onboard for these problems directed by medical test and medical inventory according to flag regulations. ‘’These tests need to be revised according to present needs’’ highlighted Periclis Tzardis.
- Cardiovascular heart diseases – according to WHO, heart disease is one of the largest killers globally and it has been noticed that cardiovascular disease is a common alarming trend among seafarers and is highly impacted from seafarers’ genes, smoking habits, diet, stress, lack of exercise. Multitasking propensity, high levels of stress, and a lack of leisure and relaxation only serve to exacerbate this issue for seafarers.
- Seafarers do not exercise much while there are gyms available onboard either because they don’t’ have time available due to shift patterns or the inclination to exercise after a long day. It is all about encouraging seafarers to take on new and healthy habits
- Cancer – there is a gradual rise in the number of seafarers with cancer, Sandra Welch noticed, highlighting the need to ensure regular check ups for seafarers and raise awareness through campaigns
Overall, all experts emphasised the need for all maritime stakeholders to discuss and create industry guidelines in order to ensure ongoing learning, as well as to educate the sector about the potential health benefits of physical activity. They recommended the sector to foster a culture of healthy living, encourage, and inform seafarers on physical wellbeing because the industry can occasionally overlook wellness.
The industry needs to pay attention to members on board and to ensure conditions are safe.
The industry is on the right path with wellbeing, we must remember the importance of resilience
….highlighted Capt. Konstantinos Karavasilis
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