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Maritime charity calls for industry-wide collaboration to support the future health of the seafaring community

Charities, ship owners, charterers and other stakeholders in the maritime industry must work together to create a culture of care in maritime, according to the Seafarers Hospital Society (SHS). Delegates at last Friday’s SHS seminar, Supporting Seafarers into the Future, were inspired by the findings of the Society’s landmark study of maritime worker health initiatives, conducted by Yale University with support from Lloyd’s Register Foundation.

Chief Executive of the Society, Sandra Welch said:

“Seafarers are people, not just resources, and we need to see them that way. The industry must develop a ‘culture of care’ that respects seafarers as individuals, enhances their wellbeing and improves job satisfaction. It’s not just a pipe dream – it really is achievable and we want to work with them to make it happen. We’re asking the ship owners, charterers and others in the industry to join with us so we can progress these ideas and make them a reality.”

Reviewing the key findings of the research, Dr Martin Slade, Director of Yale University Maritime Research, called on delegates to ‘pick the low-hanging fruit’ and join together to make a difference to the lives of seafarers. He said:

“Our research shows that there is significant potential to improve the health and wellbeing of seafarers but changes are needed to all aspects of the working environment. Some of those changes could be made quickly, at low cost and with minimal disruption – and they would make a real difference. Potential benefits include: increased retention rates, reduced training and operating costs, and fewer accidents and injuries – that’s a win:win for all.”

The quick and easy wins advocated by Dr Slade include:

  • Promote a healthier diet through training of cooks
  • Make drinking water accessible in more locations onboard to address poor hydration
  • Introduce a mentoring scheme for new cadets to support them on entering the industry
  • Provide organised physical activities onboard to combat isolation, increase physical activity and improve health and wellbeing
  • Provide organised social activities that are consistent with the culture of seafarers on board to address boredom and promote cultural cohesion and tolerance
  • Provide training and awareness of noise induced hearing loss to reduce the impact of noise on board
  • Ensure the medicine chest is fully stocked to improve the healthcare available on board

Delegates also heard about the outcome of the SeaFit Programme, a joint initiative between the Society and The Fisherman’s Mission, with initial funding from the Seafarers’ Charity, to improve the health and wellbeing of the fishing community.

Seafit Programme Delivery Manager, Carol Elliott said: The programme has been a resounding success with over 4500 interventions with fishermen and their families and tangible improvements in their health and wellbeing. We’ve provided a wide range of services from dental care to physiotherapy, mental health counselling to healthy lifestyle advice, all delivered at or near the quayside at times that are convenient to them. And we’ve really started to break down the barriers, enabling this traditional hard-to-reach group to talk about health concerns and seek help, before it’s too late.”

She continued: “The SeaFit brand is now trusted and respected by the fishing community and by health and wellbeing delivery partners alike. So we will continue to provide key elements of the Programme into 2022 and to work with local service providers to explore how best to meet the health and wellbeing needs of the fishing community.”

The event was also a celebration of the 200th anniversary of the Society with speakers reflecting on its past and a panel of experts looking at how to support the health of seafarers in the future, drawing on the day’s discussions. Panelist Natalie Shaw, Director Employment Affairs at the International Chamber of Shipping, urged everyone to act now. She said: “We have the opportunity to act now. Let’s take it and try and get people to understand what needs to be done.”

Download the SeaFit programme report here.