Organisations which prioritise the safety and welfare of their seafarers over business costs and performance have more developed safety cultures, lower levels of fatigue and sleep problems among their crews. This is one of seven key findings from a recent study into safety culture in the maritime industry. The study is a joint initiative of AMSA, University of Queensland and University of Western Australia and involved surveying more than 1000 international seafarers visiting Australian ports between 2014 and 2017.
This study aimed to provide new insights into seafarers’ safety and wellbeing by examining the influence of key organisational factors related to safety culture.
A total of 1026 seafarers participated in this study (164 from the command team and 862 from the rest of the crew), and 23 flag States were represented in the sample.
The key findings of this study can be summarized as following:
1. Safety Culture
- Most of the participants (about 80%) reported an overall positive safety culture on their ship. However, they also reported many risk factors that could impact safety. For example, the data shows that work demands are high and negatively impact seafarers’ recovery and long term wellbeing. In the same wavelength, the negative types of safety compliance behaviours reported by participants are indicating reduced levels of safety culture.
- Safety leadership was the strongest predictor of the development levels of a safety culture.
2. Work Demands: Working Hours
- More than 20% reported working more than 69 hours per week and that working hours were unpredictable.
- Long working hours were associated with mental ill health, sleep problems, and near-misses and injuries.
3. Fatigue and Sleep
- 12% of the participants reported experiencing sleep problems. Sleep problems were more likely for seafarers who experienced a combination of job insecurity and long working hours in uncertain operational conditions. However, co-worker support and safety leadership can mitigate these negative effects.
- Almost 20% experienced chronic fatigue. Seafarers were more likely to develop chronic fatigue if they experienced poor sleep, a lack of job resources, and high levels of work pressures. 20% of seafarers also experienced high levels of acute fatigue at work. Seafarers were less likely to experience fatigue in the presence of high levels of job autonomy, safety leadership, job security, and the absence of work constraints.
4. Organisational Priorities
- Wellbeing and mental health were better when seafarers saw that their organisations prioritised their safety and welfare over operational costs and performance. Prioritising safety and welfare was also related to a more developed safety culture.
- Increasing an organisation’s priority on safety and welfare is unlikely to improve seafarers’ wellbeing. It is the balancing of the priority placed on costs and performance that will result in positive effects.
5. Mental Health
- Around 40% of the participating seafarers reported experiencing symptoms of mental ill health at least sometimes, and around 10% of them reported experiencing these symptoms often.
- Seafarers suffering from chronic fatigue and sleep problems, and working in high vigilance demands roles were more likely to experience mental ill health symptoms. On the other hand, experiencing these symptoms was less likely in the presence of safety leadership and a stable crew.
- 90% of seafarers indicated positive levels of psychological wellbeing, 70% indicated positive levels of social wellbeing , and 80% indicated positive levels of hedonic wellbeing.
- Seafarers experiencing chronic fatigue, acute fatigue, and sleep problems were more likely to report reduced psychological wellbeing and functioning.
- High levels of trust in co-workers and in supervisors, crew stability, and safety leadership can improve seafarers’ wellbeing. Decreasing crew stability, reduced job security and increased crew diversity, damages the quality of social processes designed to improve trust and support onboard ships.
7. Safety Behaviours
- Close to 80% of seafarers reported high quality compliance to safety rules and procedures.
- More than 40% of participants also agreed that they sometimes just ‘tick the boxes’ without paying much attention to the actual procedures, and close to 20% agreed that they behave in non-compliant ways while at work. This indicated that, even when overall compliance is high, there might be instances of non-compliance or surface compliance.
- Improve the quality of work rules and procedures by incorporating the principles of seafarer involvement.This will likely reduce the likelihood of poor compliance behaviours, and improve seafarers’ performance and wellbeing.
- Fatigue Management: In the maritime industry, where 1 in 5 seafarers experienced some levels of acute fatigue and/or chronic fatigue, an effective fatigue management system that monitors and manages the risk of fatigue is crucial. So, organisations should incorporate fatigue management within the safety management systems.
- Work Design and Organisational Support: While many of the work demands experienced by seafarers are inherent to the industry and hard to change, increases in job relevant resources might protect the seafarer from the negative effects of the work demands and foster improved seafarer safety and wellbeing. Thus, it was recommended that organisations strive to increase the levels of support seafarers receive while onboard ships, to offer opportunities for their involvement in decision-making and the improvement of crew stability.
You may see the full report in the following PDF