In its latest issue, CHIRP discusses the issue of fatigue, after receiving a report from a seafarer working in the harbour towage sector about the working and rest hours and the feeling of fatigue received from their co-workers.
According to the report, all crew work 7 days on and 7 days off. The main issue is that crews can and regularly work 14 hours in a 24-hour period, with 10 remaining hours of rest. Although the reporter comments that this is not unusual, twice a week the rest hours can be broken down into 3 separate periods e.g. 6,2,2 which is unusual.
Yet, the situation has worsen by the crews working to no recognised marine watchkeeping pattern. The routine is allowed under a long-standing agreement between the owners and a union. The agreement has been accepted by the flag state administration which has granted a dispensation to allow the rest hours to be split into three periods rather than the maximum two periods stipulated in the STCW Hours of Rest regulations.
The reporter added that the system was never analyzed for the impacts of fatigue and the long-term health consequences, despite the fact that the technology is available and has been used on other agreements.
In addition, during the working week, crews work days, nights and a combination of both, with no scheduled rest periods. Instead we take rest periods at random times through the day and night between ship movements in a non-tidal-restricted port. In the meantime, meal preparation, cooking, eating and cleaning up is not classed as work time so is carried out three times daily within the random rest periods. This leads to unhealthy meal choices and due to the nature of the work schedules we follow, meals can be taken late at night.
Moreover, it is added that the past few years the number and size of ships calling the port the reporter works have increased, resulting to more tug movements, despite the fact that the number of tugs or crews remains the same.
When the agreement was first introduced there were enough crews and the system worked well – fatigue and stress were not issues – but since then the crew numbers have been reduced from 72 crew manning four tugs on a 1 day on / 3 days off rotation to the present 30 crew manning four tugs on a 7 days on / 7 days off rotation. Virtually all crew members struggle to get enough rest.
All crewmembers experience difficulties sleeping, due to the rotating day and night working, and experience the effects of fatigue whilst engaged in safety-critical operations. Crew members speak of experiencing headaches, feeling jet lagged and not feeling normal until after the 2nd or 3rd day of their week off as a result of the massive disruption of their circadian rhythms.
However, even though crewmembers have expressed their concerns over fatigue to the company, they receive a negative attitude in return, with the first having to explain why they declare themselves fatigued.
During a recent shipping medical after several crewmembers mentioned the situation, the doctor had serious concerns regarding the working conditions in our towage sector, prompting the doctor to notify the chief medical officer of the flag state administration. As yet there is no satisfactory outcome.
Following, a local risk assessment on fatigue was conducted by a combination of lower management and crew representatives, in line with the company’s Fatigue Management Plan. Yet, it is noted that none of the participants had any training or specialised knowledge about fatigue.
The problem described is not limited to a single port but is widespread wherever this work pattern is followed
… the reporter commented.
#4 DROP certain unimportant tasks
#3 DELEGATE work that is not necessary for you to do
#2 DELAY work that is not needed immediately
#1 DO what is essential and adds the most value
Following the reports, CHIRP stated that a proper risk assessment conducted by qualified people would have identified the risks the current working arrangement presents to the health, safety and welfare of the crews.
Meanwhile, it is advised that the tips below could help improve the current situation:
- Use of modern technology and scientifically recognised programmes, such as Project Martha, would readily identify and quantify the levels of fatigue and risk present.
- The company have a duty to reduce such identified risks to as low as is reasonably possible.
- The flag state administration has not granted any exemptions to trading vessels but for some reason is treating these tug and towage operations differently.
- While this long-standing agreement has been revalidated every 5 years, CHIRP would argue that due to changes in the workings of this port and others, the additional workload on the tugs renders the present agreement no longer fit for purpose and a full review needs to be carried out by all parties.
- The STCW Hours of Rest regulations set the internationally agreed minimum number of hours of rest for seafarers and the maximum number of periods those hours of rest can be divided into.
Taking more action, CHIRP has written to the Harbour Master, as the responsible authority within the port, to share our concerns with him over the present situation, and has written to the national administration expressing concern at the consequences of the current dispensation arrangement.