Long working hours, isolation and extended periods away from home put seafarers at risk of poor mental health, according to new research by Cardiff University.
The new study, funded by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), urges shipping companies to provide greater support for workers to help prevent conditions, such as anxiety and depression.
It recommends the provision of onboard amenities such as Internet access, improved accommodation, and recreational activities.
More than 1,500 seafarers completed a questionnaire for the research, while face-to-face interviews were conducted with small groups of seafarers, employers, maritime charities and other stakeholders.
Lack of Internet access, long periods away from friends and family, poor accommodation and food were among the leading causes of concern for those working at sea.
The report says there is evidence that recent-onset psychological disorders are increasing among serving seafarers – yet more than half (55%) of employers said they had not introduced any policies or practices to address mental health issues
“It is all too easy for seafarers working out on the deep ocean to be invisible to those ashore," says Professor Helen Sampson, director of Cardiff University’s Seafarers International Research Centre, who led the study.
"Their remoteness allows for abuse to go undetected. Sometimes seafarers are subjected to bullying and harassment by superiors and colleagues on board.
"However many employers also mistreat seafarers by failing to provide decent and humane living conditions which promote good mental well-being."
The report concludes that the provision of free Internet access would make the most significant contribution to improving the mental health and well-being of those working onboard ships.
Other areas for focus include better terms and conditions of work, relationships with colleagues on board, accommodation, and recreation.
“Lone workers or those working in small crews in remote areas often work without close interaction with other employees or family members,” says Duncan Spencer of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health.
“They face a unique set of challenges and are particularly vulnerable when it comes to their mental health.
“Organisations employing remote workers need to shift their approach to follow similar standards that are being implemented in other industries.
“Poor leadership and culture in the organisation, excessive pressure, bullying and harassment are factors that have the potential to negatively impact on workers’ mental health and well-being.
“It is crucial that these are seriously considered and given a proportionate approach.”
Specific recommendations from the report include:
- At least one activity on-board, such as basketball, squash or swimming
- At least four activities from table tennis, darts, barbecues, karaoke, bingo, and card and board games
- A gym with at least three pieces of equipment
- At least two facilities from a sauna, a book and DVD library, satellite TV with cabins and a library of interactive video games
- Comfortable mattresses and furnishings within cabins
- Shore leave at every opportunity for all ranks
- Varied, good quality food
In addition, organisations are urged to provide self-help guidance on improving mental resilience, provide contracts that balance work and leave time, introduce and enforce anti-bullying and harassment policies, train officers on creating a positive onboard atmosphere, and set up confidential counselling services.
The research report can be viewed at www.iosh.com/seafarerswellbeing