Mental health in the workplace is something more organisations are concerned about, and in the shipping world it’s no different. It’s recognised that being at sea for weeks at a time, thousands of miles from family and friends can be incredibly isolating and challenging for seafarers, especially if they don’t have internet access to stay in touch.
These concerns aren’t unfounded. A report last year from the international maritime charity Sailors’ Society and Yale University, found that over a quarter (26%) of seafarers said they had felt “down, depressed or hopeless” on several days over the previous two weeks. Nearly half of these don’t ask for help either.
There are calls for wellbeing training to be enshrined in the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC), which sets out internationally-agreed minimum working and living rights for seafarers including minimum age, medical certification, and training qualifications.
Another way that shipping companies can improve wellbeing on board is to provide personal internet access for seafarers. Studies have shown this can have a positive impact on their mental wellbeing, even though the shipping industry has worried it could have the opposite effect.
A new survey from the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and the European Community Shipowners’ Associations (ECSA) found not only did the positive benefits associated with this access outweigh the feared safety concerns around the technology, but more seafarers have access to the internet than previously thought.
Key findings included 60% of respondents saying that the provision of internet access to seafarers for personal use may have improved the mental health and wellbeing of seafarers and 69% believing it was good for morale.
Interestingly, four in five organisations (82%) who responded now provide internet access to seafarers for personal use and, despite industry concerns that internet access may negatively impact rest and sleep during periods of rest, 85% of companies say this has been unaffected or improved.
Likewise, whilst there have also been concerns expressed as to whether internet access may negatively or positively impact upon the work performance of seafarers, 96% of companies reported that this has not deteriorated.
Other findings suggest that the internet isn’t leading to more seafarers seeking assistance due to family or home-related anxieties, as feared and the vast majority of companies say that the number of reported incidences of online bullying and harassment have not increased, despite speculation that greater internet access might expose seafarers to this behaviour.
Internet is a basic right
Another study by Nautilus also highlights some interesting points around internet access. In their 2017 Connectivity at Sea whitepaper they point out that 91% of UK homes have broadband access and the UK Government recently announced that access to the internet should be a basic right, rather than a luxury.
Yet results from their research showed that despite 88% of the seafarers they spoke to having internet access at sea, those who do often have limited access at high cost.
Their research pointed out that internet connectivity onboard greatly improves the ability to communicate with loved ones back home, thus mitigating the loneliness of being away from home. It makes seafaring more bearable and potentially more attractive as a career. They also found that nearly two-thirds of respondents said they would consider moving company if it provided better onboard connectivity. In the competitive world of shipping this is potentially a point of difference that could help with recruitment and retention too. It’s clear that having personal internet access can have a positive impact on seafarers and it’s something they shouldn’t be denied just because of the job they do. Looking after the mental health and wellbeing seafarers should be a priority for all shipping companies.
Contributing our share
We’re also doing our bit when it comes to the wellbeing of seafarers and helping to prevent tiredness on ships. In October 2018 we launched our Rest Hours Module as part our Cloud Crewing software solution. Ensuring seafarers have enough rest and stick to the legal limits on how many hours they can work can be a challenge, especially in an industry which has traditionally jotted rest hours on pieces of paper and kept this information in one place.
The Rest Hours module solves this challenge – digitalising and centralising the process via cloud technology. It allows crews to enter their own rest hours rather than relying on someone else to collect and enter the data. This means they can access their own data and ensure the correct times have been entered. We’re also going a step further in looking after the health and wellbeing of seafarers. Last year we were selected to work on an EU-funded ‘e-healthy ship’ project, to provide software solutions focussing on the physical and mental health of crews at sea. We will be providing updates on this as they are available. The shipping industry is going through a technology revolution that is helping improve all sorts of systems and processes. Technology is also enabling shipping companies to better look after the health and wellbeing of crews that work at sea, which is a positive step forward.