A day to focus on men at work – especially at sea

On International Men’s Day (Saturday 19 November), this year spare a thought for those (predominantly men) working at sea, in the international cargo shipping industry. Far from home having limited contact with their families, they work long hours, are often overworked and likely to be in poor accommodation, with little opportunity for recreation and hardly any scope to relax, recharge and reboot their mood.

This picture of unrelenting hardship and acute vulnerability to mental ill-health is presented in an IOSH research report, conducted in association with Cardiff University, on Seafarers’ mental health and wellbeing. In a wider context of growing concern for people’s mental health and wellbeing in all workplaces, the report calls on employers and stakeholders to put greater focus on the importance of securing good mental health and wellbeing for those working at sea.

Yet 55 percent of employer respondents stated their companies had not introduced any policies or practices aimed at addressing issues of seafarers’ mental ill-health in the last 10 years or more.

“Seafarers give up a lot for their jobs, including family life and social contacts, and deal with challenges such as loneliness, isolation, boredom, tiredness, job insecurity, poor food and cramped, uncomfortable living quarters,” said IOSH Research Manager Mary Ogungbeje.

“They can have additional burdens brought by insensitive management and, sometimes, discrimination, so it’s no surprise seafarers are vulnerable to anxiety, depression, emotional and physical exhaustion and burn-out,” she added.

Drawing on the findings of the Cardiff team, based on research conducted with over 1,500 seafarers, the report presents a raft of recommendations to maritime employers, including:

  • Making free and unlimited internet access available to all seafarers on board all cargo vessels
  • Providing a varied menu of interactive recreational activities, such as basketball, squash, swimming, table tennis, darts, barbecues, karaoke, bingo and card/board games
  • Also offering more solitary activities, like a gym, book and CD library and video games
  • Putting comfortable mattresses and finishings in cabins
  • Arranging more shore leave
  • Providing more varied, better quality food
  • Offering self-help guidance on improving mental resilience
  • Contracts that offer a better balance between work and leave time (no worse than a ratio of 2:1 and with a maximum of six months on board at a time)
  • More information and enforcement with regard to anti-bullying and harassment policies
  • Officer training focused on creating a positive atmosphere on board
  • Making confidential counselling available to all seafarers.

Seafaring may be a (largely) man’s world, but it doesn’t need to be neglectful, uncaring or unprofessional.

You can access the report and other resources here.

Jeremy Waterfield
Content Officer
  • Mental health
  • Wellbeing
  • Shipping / Portage
  • IOSH News release