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The MARTHA study into seafarer fatigue has found that some Chinese seafarers are regularly working in excess of 100 hours per week. What does that mean in real terms for performance, for mental health and how can it be managed?

STRESS LEVELS

Stress levels

Stress levels

Working too long or too hard can result in extremely high levels of stress, particularly if you don’t have enough going on in the rest of your life to counterbalance it. Short bursts of pressure every once in a while are good for keeping us challenged and on our toes at work, but chronic, continuous stress is a different matter entirely.

Study after study has linked stress to all manner of health problems, including high blood pressure, infertility, indigestion, allergies, migraine, diabetes, ulcers, skin disorders and depression.

For seafarers it is obvious that work will dominate life more than for those ashore. But in working excessively while away, there are so many health and wellbeing issues which come to the fore.

If you’re working too hard there’s also a good chance that you’re ignoring your diet and certainly not getting enough exercise. Grabbing something from the hot press or slamming something into the microwave is not a healthy options – but what else can be done?

Also downing endless cups of coffee or chugging on energy drinks to keep going is a recipe for disaster over the long term. With work at all consuming levels, it means that exercise is often an afterthought.

HEALTH AND WELLBEING

Seafarer Health and Wellbeing

Seafarer health and wellbeing

Often the dilemma and the creeping curse of overwork is that diet and exercise both begin to suffer. They are vital to head off the problems which fatigue can bring – but as they slip, then the body and mind begin to suffer.

What are the six key impacts of fatigue and stress from overwork?

1. Depression – There is an almost exponential growth in depression for those who work longer and who rest less. People who work 11 or more hours a day have an increased risk of depression

2. Sedentary Lifestyle– Seafaring used to be an energetic pursuit – but increasingly this is not the case. While crew may be busy on deck or shuttling around the engine room, the officers are increasingly sedentary. Such sedentary habits are not good for health. There have been multiple studies linking sitting to a whole host of health problems, including diabetes, obesity, cancer, heart attack and even death.

3. Sleep – The average adult should hopefully grab about seven to nine hour of sleep per night, according to the National Sleep Foundation. It is clear that this just is not happening for seafarers…whatever the watch keeping patterns, such hours of kip can only be dreamed of. The health effects of too little sleep are well documented and include decreased memory, increased weight gain, irritability and other mood problems, serious cardiovascular health problems, and possibly cancer, to name a few.

4. Heart Problems – Too much work and too little rest increases risk for a wide range of heart-health-related problems, including heart disease, heart attack and high blood pressure. In fact, a 2010 study found working 10 or more hours a day resulted in a 60 percent jump in risk of cardiovascular issues.

5. Stress – According to research, a quarter of people identify work as the primary stressor in their lives. This is likely to be even higher amongst seafarers. In the short term, stress prompts the body to pump out hormones that can increase blood pressure, heart rate and blood sugar. Over time that can lead to mental health problems, obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and skin problems, among others.

6. Brain Strain – Too much work can damage the brain and is associated with a risk of mental decline or even dementia. A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found a possible negative effect on cognitive performance after working long hours in middle age. With an aging seagoing workforce, we may only just be starting to see the real and frightening effects of too much work.

What do you think? Is too much work bad for health? What are you experiences at sea…tell us how life is for you, and the effects of fatigue on your wellbeing.