Growing levels of poor wellbeing amongst seafarers

Published: 17/05/2018

As a quality flag, the UK Ship Register is increasingly concerned at the mounting body of evidence highlighting the growing level of poor wellbeing amongst seafarers, particularly mental health and suicide.  We must be responsive not only to the needs of shipowners, but also those who serve on our vessels. 

Mental health and wellbeing has, until recently, received limited attention.  Mental health issues have been taboo and those suffering with them are often stigmatised, even ridiculed or feared.

Fortunately, due to sterling efforts of enlightened health professionals, politicians and those who have suffered mental illness this situation is changing, our understanding and awareness are increasing, support networks are developing, and empathy is improving.  This is to be warmly welcomed.

 Firstly, we should ensure regulations remain fit for purpose and are enforced fairly and effectively.  We need to maintain a fair and proportionate balance between regulatory burden and protection.  We engage effectively with our partners at IMO and ILO to develop effective, well-balanced international regulation, and maintain effective dialogue with our Social Partners.

Secondly, the non-regulatory approach can also be very effective, in particular, the development and adoption of best practice across industry. 

MCA has produced a quantity of guidance over the years to engage shipowners and seafarers in wellbeing issues.  However, we can be more effective still and really make a significant difference to seafarer wellbeing.  We are currently working with a range of partners to address wellbeing issues at organisational and individual levels.

Wellbeing should be a shared concern between the company and the seafarer. While companies can establish policies, procedures and support mechanisms and comply with the relevant regulations and current best practice, the effectiveness also depends on the co-operation of individual seafarers playing their part to look after themselves.

We need to develop a better understanding of people – how we really think, behave, work; why we do what we do; why we mostly perform satisfactorily but why we occasionally make mistakes, and what we can do about it.  In particular, we need to revise cultural perceptions about accidents and how we treat people when things go wrong, to move away from the blame-game and towards a culture of fair minded accountability – not all bad outcomes should attract culpability!

We need to focus our efforts on developing people centred equipment, tools, work practices and procedures – that meet the real needs of the operator – underpinned by a fair-minded culture, in a way that makes work more effective and efficient; safer; less arduous and less stressful.  Our recent publication Being Human in safety critical organisations explains this in detail, with effective, practical tips and guidance, in an informative and captivating way.

Such an effective understanding of normal human behaviour and needs, embraced as “business as usual” will make work more efficient, productive, safe and more human.  It will also contribute significantly to improved seafarer wellbeing.  It’s a win-win.

For further information about MCA information and guidance on Health and Safety, Wellbeing and Human Element contact: