SAFETY4SEA: Your organization has been shortlisted for the 2018 SAFETY4SEA Awards in the ‘Sustainability’ category alongside a number of other distinguished nominees. What is the background and the key drivers behind this nomination/shortlisting?
Sandra Welch: Wellness at Sea was developed in response to a call from the industry to address the issue of poor mental health and the associated risks that can arise as a result of a life at sea.
A seafaring career can be incredibly rewarding. However, we noticed that although the training seafarers undergo prior to going to sea is excellent, it often concentrates on the traditional hard skills required, which can leave new recruits underprepared for some of the harsh realities that life at sea brings.
When we hear of incidents at sea being the result of ‘human error’, the term often disguises a variety of underlying problems. Issues such as fatigue, poor mental health and stress, combined with the unique challenges of a seafaring career, can affect seafarers going about their daily work and can prove the difference between safe transit and a major incident.
In 2014, Sailors’ Society chaired a round table discussion highlighting the importance of identifying mental illness at sea, the effects of which lead to crew attrition, risks in safety and efficiency, and costly re-routing of ships.
That’s why, just a year later, we created our Wellness at Sea coaching programme, which helps equip seafarers with soft skills.
We hope that graduates of the course, which explores five aspects of wellness – social, emotional, intellectual, physical and spiritual – will be able to recognise and pre-empt signs of physical or mental ill health for both themselves and crewmates, before they impact on seafarers’ lives and the safety of the ship and cargo.
Wellness at Sea has now extended beyond the coaching programme to include an e-learning platform , conferences, seminars and a free app for seafarers. More than 4,000 seafarers have benefitted from its teaching. By improving on board health and well-being, we are making for a more sustainable safe industry.
S4S: When it comes to tackling the shipping challenges with respect to sustainable shipping, what are the key priorities on your agenda?
S.W.: As part of our continuous research into this area of work, Sailors’ Society commissioned Yale University to conduct a survey into seafarers’ mental health and well-being. The results indicated that more than a quarter of seafarers show signs of depression.
Loneliness, isolation and fatigue are all barriers towards a resilient and sustainable shipping industry and crew retention.
Sailors’ Society will continue to work with our partners and fellow welfare agencies to drive the agenda for change in this area. And Wellness at Sea has given a solid grounding, promoting good health and well-being on board, equipping trainees to pre-empting and prevent many of the issues that can arise.
S4S: What is your organization doing differently and/or more effectively in order to prepare for a more sustainable future?
S.W.: Since 2013, Sailors’ Society has worked hard to assert ourselves as the leaders in maritime welfare – whether we talk about digital or community projects, crisis response or Wellness at Sea. Innovation has been a core value throughout our 200 years of supporting seafarers and their families. We continue to innovate and are always looking to the future, exploring new opportunities to expand our global services and enhance the support we offer through new digital platforms. The next step for Wellness at Sea will be to make our e-learning platform 'mywellnessatsea.com', available off-line so that we bring even greater flexibility to the training.
Alongside that, we continue our core work and last year reached more than 375,000 seafarers and their families, to help them in times of need.
S4S: Do you have any new projects on the pipeline and/or plans, related with your safety performance that you would like to share with the industry?
S.W.: Our Crisis response network CRN, which falls under the wider umbrella of Wellness at Sea, in particular the emotional wellness module, is being further extended to make it more interactive through digital developments so that seafarers can contact us directly, thus providing 24/7 assistance if they have mental health issues, suffer trauma or find themselves in a crisis or desperate situation. All this we believe will add to their safety at sea.
S4S: If you could change one thing about the shipping industry, what would it be and why?
S.W.: Countless investigations into disasters at sea have proven that anxiety and fatigue can take a terrible toll on the decision-making abilities of crew. We are looking to ship owners to prioritise crew wellness and invest in training - such as our Wellness at Sea programme - in order to help prevent disasters like the El Faro tragedy. Healthy seafarer, healthy ship, healthy balance sheet.
You may cast your vote for Sailors’ Society Wellness at Sea project at 2018 SAFETY4SEA Awards dedicated webpage till 7th of September 2018!
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.