Captain Panos Stavrakakis MBA PhD CEng CSci FIMarEST, Head of the Centre of Organizational Health & Wellbeing at HSE discusses the upcoming IMarEST conference and healthy working environments at sea...
Q: What are your aims for the conference?
A: The 1st Global Conference for Seafarer Mental Health and Wellbeing aims to bring together stakeholders from the maritime sector who want to discuss practical solutions to improving seafarer mental health and wellbeing. The focus will be on interventions and exploring best practice of implementation, monitoring results and identifying what more can be done.
Q: How important was it for the conference to be organised?
A: It is the first ever event of this size and scope. The conference represents the desire of a widening group of people and organizations to bring forward an agenda for discussion and solutions for seafarers’ mental health and wellbeing. These professionals are hugely valuable to our civilization, moving around the globe 90% of the international trade, sailing for several months away from their loved ones and their support network. So, the conference is a kick-off event to raise awareness about the challenges these highly-skilled mariners are facing and how these mental health and wellbeing challenges are impacting the industry.
Q: What are the biggest issues which contribute to poor mental health at sea?
A: There are many contributing factors unique to this industry, but also others that are common with other industries. Currently there’s a lack of evidence to examine, on a scientific basis, the factors that contribute to the poor mental health in a marine workplace. There are sporadic surveys but there is not a strong scientific evidence base. Thus, one of the purposes of the conference is to open the discussion for the need to extensively research and build this evidence base to inform policy makers.
Q: What do you believe we can learn from other industries?
A: The global maritime industry has a lot to learn from other industries. For instance, in the UK, employers have a legal responsibility to help their employees. Work-related mental ill health issues must be assessed to measure the levels of risk to staff. Where a risk is identified, steps must be taken to remove it or reduce it as far as reasonably practicable.
Although stress can lead to physical and mental health conditions and can aggravate existing conditions, the good news is that it can be tackled. By taking action to remove or reduce stressors, you can prevent people becoming ill and avoid those with an existing condition becoming less able to control their illness.
UK employers can use the HSE Management Standards to take action on work-related stress and meet parts of the core standards framework to:
- form part of a mental health at work plan which engages their workforce
- promote communications and open conversations, by raising awareness and reducing stigma
- provide a mechanism for monitoring actions and outcomes
Q: What policies and practices have been/could be implemented and what is their effectiveness in supporting seafarers’ mental health and wellbeing?
A: The International Maritime Labour Convention provides the legal framework for the protection of seafarers. However, it seems in practice there’s the need for more actions and solutions. Thus the 1st Global Conference for Seafarer Mental Health and Wellbeing is aiming to open this discussion of what more needs to be done.
Q: What challenges do smaller crews/companies face?
A: It is difficult to say anything about this. I believe that there are more specific challenges that smaller crews and companies are facing. But again, it is important to gather scientific evidence generated by impartial research about these challenges so policy makers are responsibly informed.
Q: What does a healthy working environment look like?
A: In my view, a healthy working environment is closely linked with a strong health and safety culture. The health and safety culture of an organisation is the product of individual and group values, attitudes, perceptions, competencies, and patterns of behaviour that determine the commitment to, and the style and proficiency of, an organisation’s health and safety management. Organisations with a positive safety culture are characterised by communications founded on mutual trust, by shared perceptions of the importance of safety and by confidence in the efficacy of preventive measures.
In organizations with strong health and safety culture, there’s:
- Management commitment: this commitment produces higher levels of motivation and concern for health and safety throughout the organisation.
- Visible management: Managers need to be seen to lead by example when it comes to health and safety.
- Good communications between all levels of employee: in a positive culture questions about health and safety should be part of everyday work conversations. Management should listen actively to what they are being told by employees, and take what they hear seriously
- Active employee participation in safety is important, to build ownership of safety at all levels and exploit the unique knowledge that employees have of their own work.
- In companies with a good culture, you will find the story from employees and management being consistent, and safety is seen as a joint exercise.
Q: How can organisations create a healthy working environment?
A: I strongly believe that an organisation can create a healthy working environment by empowering and building a strong health and safety culture. Also, the company needs to establish a mechanism to monitor mental health, work-related stress, fatigue and other wellbeing risks. This also includes the ability to design and implement highly effective interventions to cope with and address these risks. That way, the employer will be taking steps that will reduce pressure, manage potential stressors and limit the negative impact that the work could have on employees. There’s plenty of free useful material on the HSE’s websites (HSE: Information about health and safety at work, Home - HSE Solutions (hsl.gov.uk), Stress Indicator Tool (SIT) (hse.gov.uk) )
Q: What benefits can a healthy working environment bring to the industry?
A: Maritime companies, undertaking safety culture and workplace improvements, can experience measurable benefits:
- Accelerated safety culture improvement
- Reduced accident and injury rates
- Increased employee productivity
- Better workplace morale and staff retention
- Improved organisational reputation
- Greater competitive edge
Register now for the IMarEST’s 1st Global Conference on Seafarer Mental Health & Wellbeing to explore these issues further.