Seafarers have told us that they want their work load to be considered, and the effects of fatigue and stress to be tackled.
For centuries, seafaring has always been considered a tough, hard way to make a living. Away from home, living a life afloat, and with the attendant risk of drowning. It has been about rolling sleeves up and getting the job done.
Technology has brought with it some advances – but even though seafaring is more a white than blue collar pursuit, these days – there is still danger lurking, and there is still much hard work to be done.
Time was when the work load was shared across far more people. Now, ever smaller crew numbers have to do the manual, hands on, operational tasks – but they also have to be administrators and paper pushers too.
The work load has been intensified – as it is no longer enough to do the job, there is the paper work to complete too. So people have been cut, but the demands have intensified. Given too, that vessels are in port for such a short time, then more and more is demanded of seafarers.
The negative effects of a heavy work load are well documented. Heavy workloads can negatively affect psychological well-being, blood pressure and heart health are affected and even the stability of relationships is tested and strained.
Safety too comes under threat when too heavy a work load burden is placed on the shoulders of seafarers. All of these negative effects can fluctuate on a daily basis based on the crew perceptions of the amount of work they have to do – but the message is clear, too much work is bad, and seafarers want the industry to hear their call for action before it is too late.
Given the constant focus on “wellness” and happiness of seafarers – it seems that we need to find ways of listening when crews speak out about problem issues and things which need to be fixed.
Health is being affected, relationships are being torn apart – at sea and with those ashore – and safety is being threatened. Any one of these would warrant action – the fact that all are being impacted, should see an immediate overhaul in the levels of work which seafarers have to carry. Seafarers are shouldering too great a burden, and they are doing so with too little support onboard, and without the necessary backing from staff ashore.
So what are the more obvious effects of having to deal with too heavy and sustained a work load?
Stress: The first problem associated with having too much to do is stress. According to a study by psychologists, employees who reported feeling overworked also reported feelings of psychological and emotional distress and a reduction in their overall levels of well-being.
There are ways that these negative effects can be countered. The stress effects were found to be less severe when employees felt the organisation placed a high level of value on their work and gave them a sense of control over their circumstances.
While negative effects were more severe when employees felt not only overworked but also powerless and not valued by the organisation. This paints a rather worrying picture for seafarers, as all too often there are complaints that shipping or manning companies are not supporting enough of those at sea.
Even if the work load cannot easily be lightened, it seems that people just need to feel respected and recognised for what they do. The burden of a heavy work load can feel a little lighter if someone cares.
Blood Pressure: The same psychological study found that employees who felt overworked had higher blood pressure than those who did not.
Again, just as with stress, this negative effect was more severe when the overworked employees also felt undervalued and powerless. Because high blood pressure is correlated with higher rates of cardiovascular disease, chronically heavy workloads could be associated with higher risks for heart attacks and other heart health problems.
The study found that blood pressure levels would spike on the same day as the increased workload, so the effect is immediate. With seafarers facing sustained levels of heavy workload, it seems likely that they are experiencing potentially damaging long term spikes in blood pressure.
This is doubly concerning when it ties in with the issues of health, food and fitness. It is a potential time bomb at sea – seafarers are questioning whether they are being fed well enough, whether there is enough opportunity for exercise, but they are also suffering increase in blood pressure as a result of work. This is a lethal cocktail, and one which needs to be tackled.
Relationships and Conflict: It has been well documented that higher workloads correlate with higher levels of conflict. According to psychologists, an increase in an employee’s workload was predictive of an increase in hostile and argumentative behaviours.
The studies have been completed on workers ashore – and showed that there was an increase in hostility and tension in the employee’s home environment, resulting in family conflict and decreased family stability. For seafarers, this can be doubly damaging – as they can experience conflict in their living environment on the ship, but they can also have hostility and tension with their loved ones at home. Tense, angry or distressing emails or phone contacts can further exacerbate the problems.
This is a downward spiral, one that is hugely damaging to seafarers – and is damaging their quality of life, but is also likely to be having a massive impact on the families of seafarers too.
Safety: A safety study conducted by insurers found that employee perceptions of high workload correlated with a 62 percent increase in accident rates at a petrochemical company.
However, the study found that workplaces with good teamwork were able to keep accident rates down despite heavy workloads. When high workloads cannot be avoided, companies can mitigate the negative effects by encouraging teamwork, giving employees as much power over their circumstances as possible and letting them know that their work is valued.
Safety is compromised in cases where seafarers feel they have too great a work load. As we have seen, this is increasingly the case. The message is clear – it is time to act on workloads, or safety, health and relationships will all suffer.
Do you feel your work load is too heavy? Have you felt the kinds of safety, health and relationship problems in the article? Tell us what you think about the work load at sea today…