Regulating mental health
How is the superyacht industry paying more attention to the health and wellbeing of seafarers?
'Mental health’ and ‘wellbeing’ are words that pepper the superyacht industry, and often they are referred to without a true understanding of their importance in modern business. Thankfully, there are now solutions available to the majority of businesses in all industries to ensure the core of the business – the people – are happy and healthy.
“Across society and across workplaces on a whole, people are coming around to the view that wellbeing is a key part of a well-run and successful business. According to results from the quarterly ‘Seafarers Happiness Survey’, the average score for boats is around 6.2 – so it is not a very rosy reflection of life on board,” began Carlton. This figure sparked the question asked by Carlton, ‘Why do regulators need to be involved?'
“There are obligations under the maritime labour convention to support shipowners with their duty of care, and also to help seafarers take responsibility for their own wellbeing. The maritime industry in the UK is now looking much more closely at mental health and wellbeing issues and we need to follow that as well.
“The Red Ensign Group (REG) like to be recognised as quality flags, but this is not just about the hardware of the ships, it’s also about the flag taking an interest in the wellbeing of the crew” - Julie Carlton, MCA
“The Red Ensign Group (REG) like to be recognised as quality flags, but this is not just about the hardware of the ships, it’s also about the flag taking an interest in the wellbeing of the crew,” Carlton continued, explaining that the whole of REG is now developing a focus in this area. “We all have a responsibility under the Maritime Labour Convention for medical fitness, food and catering onboard, management, hours of work, annual leave, shore leave, crew accommodation and recreational activities.
“Fatigue has been a big focus for the industry for quite a long time now. We had a real problem to approach, and have been working with the international community to try and improve regulations on the hours of work,” Carlton continued. While there is a minimum number of hours rest in place for seafarers, these hours are not scientifically based, “so it would be good to have some scientific basis for what safe working hours are, given that seafarers are often working month after month.
“Connectivity is also a big talking point at the moment, and the guidelines discussed at the Maritime Labour Convention now discuss reasonable access and reasonable charges,” Carlton commented, adding that according to the Seafarers Happiness Index, poor connectivity currently has a reasonable impact on a seafarer’s overall wellbeing.
“We want to make sure this awareness continues at sea so that people can not only spot the signs of people who are suffering, but also so that people are equipped to deal with that and provide support” - Julie Carlton, MCA
The MCA is now working closely with REG to promote wellbeing issues within the industry, such as mental health training, which is now a recognised issue with growing awareness. “We want to make sure this awareness continues at sea so that people can not only spot the signs of people who are suffering, but also so that people are equipped to deal with that and provide support,” added Carlton, referencing the internet facilities available for seafarers who need to talk to somebody, for example, Big White Wall.
Lastly, Carlton revealed that later this year there will be two publications from the MCA. “One is a handbook for ship members and employers from the organisational side of looking after seafarers, and the other is a handbook for seafarers regarding how you can look after yourself and recognise warning signs.” These publications have been developed in consultation with the unions, ship owners and also maritime charities - the latter containing a collection of guidance already available from the MCA, but collated within one easily accessible publication.
To conclude, Carlton emphasised that companies should be focusing on these issues as a priority – “they are not an optional extra.” Good mental health and wellbeing of your employees on board not only improves efficiency, but are also core components of any professional industry, and Carlton believes everyone has some responsibility to ensure this is the case.
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