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The close relationship between health and job performance cannot be doubted. At one extreme: if you're dead, you can't do your job at all; and at the other extreme: a deck officer whose hobby is participating in triathalons has little trouble dealing with the physical demands of handling cargo on a non-automated tanker. Most officers fall somewhere between those two extremes, exactly where being largely dependant on their mental and physical health.

1.11.1 Stress
Seafaring can be a stressful job and many shipping jobs ashore have their share of it as well. But stress itself is not a health concern. In fact a study of a quarter million businessmen found that those who had the most stressful jobs (often corresponding to greater success in their careers), had lower heart attack rates than all other groups and only 60% of the expected incidence of heart disease.
The hardest jobs on health turned out to be those involving less demanding jobs, especially those associated with boredom and lack of responsibility. The message is clear for both employer and employee. The more interesting a job can be made and the more responsibility attached to it, the more beneficial it will be to the health of the person doing it.
Stress can have a negative effect on health and performance if it is not managed properly by the employee. Today, stress management is a well developed discipline. An intelligent management would be wise to include shipboard courses in stress management in a program of 'riding' instruction to improve crew performance.

1.11.2 Fatigue
Fatigue is a significant contributing cause of marine casualties, often involving significant pollution claims. The incidence of fatigue in senior officers is attributable in part to manning levels and inadequate junior officer qualification. In many tankers today, the chief officer is the only person trusted to conduct cargo operations. The junior officers are often relegated to the duty of deck watch during loading and discharging operations. This is a significant departure from only a few years ago when each junior officer was fully qualified to conduct routine loading or discharging operations and the chief officer was only called out for more demanding evolutions such as topping off tanks or preparing for CBT operations. Combined with a three officer manning level, lack of qualifications by the junior officers can mean non-stop activity by the chief officer during every port call.
To avoid fatigue the chief officer needs to know how to get the most from his officers and how to pace himself. He must learn how to relax and how to arrange the cargo operations to insure that he gets at least a couple of breaks in every port. Given the ability to relax at will (good stress management technique), the chief officer will be able to capture short naps during the periods of cargo operations when his immediate attention is not required. Such brief napping has been demonstrated to significantly increase alertness, performance and endurance in the face of long-term demands.
Naps for the chief officer are a poor substitute for the real solution to this problem ... fully qualified junior officers who are competent to take over a cargo watch for four hours of routine operations without creating an incident. It is possible that some owners who have put their vessels in the care of a technical management company are not aware that their ship is manned by under-qualified officers. Any owner who is not conducting regular independent audits of the crew performance should not be surprised when faced by a disaster caused by under-qualified personnel and/or exhausted senior officers.
The master should be both aware of the level of fatigue experienced by his officers and prepared to assume their departure navigation watch if they have not had adequate rest in port. One recent pollution incident occurred because the master failed to monitor the fatigue level of his officers and did not insure that he himself was sufficiently rested and alert to navigate confined waters while departing.

1.11.3 Diet
One of the foundation blocks of health is good nutrition. This is a joint responsibility of the ship management and the crew member. Management is responsible for providing the catering staff with good food to prepare, for ensuring that the ship's menu includes regular appearances of the seven main food groups and for training the cooks to produce attractive and appetising meals.
It is then up to the crew to take their meals regularly and in moderation. One common problem among seamen is overweight. Carrying too much body around reduces performance and life expectancy. Moderate eating combined with adequate exercise will keep a seaman healthy and fit.
There is also a relationship between the morning meal and fatigue. Studies have clearly indicated a reduction in fatigue and fluid retention among previous breakfast-slighters who added fish, meat, or cheese (mozzarella, cottage, or provolone), to their normal morning meal of toast and coffee.

1.11.4 Exercise
In a tanker which is manually operated, there is plenty of opportunity for the deck officers to get their allowance of exercise. Few tanker officers were ever more fit than when each port call included a workout of opening and closing twenty valves during a watch and making two or three inspection trips to the bottom of the pumproom. Today the cargo control room has taken away that opportunity to keep in shape. Now it is necessary for the management to provide an exercise space and appropriate equipment so that the crew can maintain their physical condition. Adequate fitness can be maintained by an exercise routine which raises the heart rate for twenty minutes three or four times each week. This can be readily achieved with a rowing machine, exercise bicycle or treadmill.

1.11.5 Health care

Crew member B is a greater health risk; he has high blood pressure (crew member A is only overweight). Only regular health examinations can fully disclose crew health risks.

Illnesses or injuries must be reported immediately to the ship's medical officer. It is the responsibility of the owner and master to provide each crew member with any necessary medical care while employed on their ship.
Beyond routine care of minor illnesses or injuries, owners have an interest in providing each crew member with an annual or biennial physical exam rigorous enough to disclose any hidden illnesses.
Lack of rigorous crew physical examinations risks an unexpected medical diversion. Most of the costs of a medical diversion are normally recoverable through P&I coverage, but the unrecovered costs will always be more than equal to several years of crew physical examinations.

1.11.6 Drugs
All ship owners and operating managers should have a policy of:

  • Prohibition of possession, use, trafficking, or sale of drug substances by crew members.

  • Prohibition of the use of any substance which produces unusual behaviour of a crew member in the course of performing his duties.

  • Shipping companies should have a policy on alcohol and drug use. The policy must be clear and readily understandable by crew members and shore staff. The objective is to prevent a company vessel from being operated by any crew member while impaired by alcohol or drugs.
    Crew physical examinations should include a drug test. Provided that it is mandatory for all personnel, the practice is accepted by most crew members and unions. Because of the substantial penalties for Customs discovery of drugs on a ship, including possible seizure of the vessel, owners must take all reasonable efforts to insure that drugs are not found on board. The laws of the United States (Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986) and Colombia (National Narcotics Statute), among other countries, permit the confiscation of ships carrying drugs unless the owners, charterers and master have exercised the highest degree of care and diligence to insure that drugs were not transported in the vessel. Prior to departing a port in a known drug trafficking area, the heads of department 'must conduct a thorough visual check of all spaces, reporting any suspicious observations to the master. Any spaces not required for the vessel's operation should be kept locked and all ship's stores deliveries should be inspected by an officer. If necessary, private drug finding dogs may be employed before sailing to conduct a final search of the ship.
    Owners and officers should be aware that any marine accident in United States waters automatically subjects the vessel and its crew to a thorough drug inspection, including substance testing of all personnel involved in the accident.
    From the viewpoint of the officer, involvement in drugs, either as a user or as a courier, places your career on the razor's edge. Thousands of officer careers have been ruined by alcohol, a legal drug. Illegal drugs can have an even stronger hold on the user and bring a career to an earlier end. Some officers propose that they are free to use drugs, alcoholic or otherwise while off the ship. For a professional officer, that is not an acceptable attitude. While assigned to a ship and even while on vacation, an officer must abstain from all illegal drugs and should use alcohol moderately. Habits cultivated while ashore are difficult to leave behind when returning to sea.
    On those vessels where alcohol is permitted and available to the crew, an enforced policy of abstention prior to going on duty must be in place. The US Coast Guard requires four hours of abstention. It must not be less than one hour of abstention for every unit (1 unit = 30 cl. ordinary beer = 10 cl. table wine), consumed. Spirits, fortified wines and extra strength beer should not be permitted on board. To avoid doubt, an alcometer should be supplied to the master.
    Officers must be strictly prohibited from surrendering their watch to their replacement, if they believe the replacement to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

    1.11.7 Contagious diseases
    Sexually transmitted and other contagious diseases have always been a hazard of the seafaring trade. Today, the added threat of AIDS should inspire every seaman to practice safety if not abstention. While current preventive measures may not be foolproof, they are more than 90% effective in preventing contagion. Earlier contagious diseases remain prevalent. Any crew member who suspects that he has contracted any illness must report it immediately to the ship's medical officer.

    1.11.8 Other diseases
    Malaria - the incidence of malaria is increasing throughout the tropical areas of the world including, Africa, Asia, East Indies, Philippines, Malagasy Republic and Melanesia. In these areas, the crew should use mosquito repellents while working and mosquito netting while resting. Insecticide sprays should be used freely in the quarters. Preventive drugs should be supplied and the crew encouraged/required to take it at the recommended intervals while in subject areas and for some time after leaving the area.
    Typhoid and paratyphoid - can be prevented by effective purification of water supplies take from questionable sources and by prohibiting swimming by the crew in docks and harbours.

    1.11.9 Personal hygiene
    Personal cleanliness is an important part of good health, especially under tropical conditions. Frequent showering facilitates sweating to cool the body naturally. Frequent hand washing reduces the opportunity for contracting contagious diseases.

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