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Health and safety

Practical policies for mental health at sea

27 April 2021

Nautilus International has worked with the UK Chamber of Shipping (UKCS) on the launch of a new National Maritime Occupational Health and Safety document, Practical Guidance for Shipping Companies on Improving Mental Wellbeing. To support this, UKCS held a webinar to explore practical examples of how companies can help the mental wellbeing of staff at sea

A project has been established by industry body Maritime UK under the umbrella of its Mental Health in Maritime Network. The aim is to create a toolkit to help maritime employers meet high standards of employee wellbeing.

The document itself provides guidelines to shipping companies on drawing up a mental health policy, which can also be used to review an existing policy.

First it sets out aims including:
• promoting the health, safety and welfare of seafarers
• fostering a company culture that helps to improve mental health
• providing support for staff with mental health problems

It then goes on to give details of what the policy should include, such as a zero-tolerance approach to bullying and clear, positive messaging to all staff on mental health issues.

Some details are also supplied on how a mental health policy can work in practice.

Companies are encouraged to put procedures in place to look for seafarers who need help with mental health issues, and to support them. This includes providing seafarers with free, external sources of information and support (such as trade unions, mental health professionals and welfare organisations); allowing adjustments to working arrangements for those with mental health issues; and making sure the return to work for those declared temporarily unfit for sea service is handled appropriately.

The webinar

The webinar for the launch of new guidance on mental health for shipping companies was moderated by Melanie White from the UK Chamber of Shipping (UKCS).

Panellists at the online event were Louise Sara of P&O Ferries, Darren Proctor from the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT), and Dr Pennie Blackburn, clinical psychologist and co-author of Mentally Healthy Ships. Nautilus was represented on the panel by professional and technical officer David Appleton.

More than 110 people attended the launch, reflecting industry commitment. UK Chamber of Shipping chief executive Bob Sanguinetti said: 'In our recent member survey, crew mental health and wellbeing was cited as a top priority for the next 12 months.

'I suspect that is a result of the hardships endured since the first Covid lockdown, but also I think it accurately reflects the importance that our industry places on mental health and wellbeing.

'It's essential for senior leaders to lead by example for mental health policies to be adopted, and for the right culture to prevail, both at sea and ashore.'

Mr Appleton explained Nautilus's involvement in the initiative to those present: 'I'm in charge of safety and certification at Nautilus in the UK.

'Historically that would have always been seen in terms of ship design and rules and regulations, and the mental health side was never considered. As awareness has increased over recent years, we've recognised that you can't separate the two – that people experiencing mental health issues are more likely to have accidents. We've become very actively involved on this issue and are happy to continue doing so.

'There is a gap between what the industry is talking about in these conferences and guidance, and what's happening on board. Before the pandemic, I think if we'd asked our members if they are actually seeing changes onboard, the answers would be very mixed – some definitely are but some definitely aren't.

'The pandemic has really shown that all of the guidance in the world is of no use whatsoever if you’re stuck on a ship for eight months.

'For me, we really need to take from it is that we’ve raised awareness now and need to move on to implementation.

'That’s what these guidelines are designed for – practical guidance for how you can actually take what we've been talking about for the last four or five years and put it into practice on ships.'

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Guidelines to shipping companies on mental health awareness

The UK Chamber of Shipping, Nautilus International and the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) have jointly agreed the following guidelines to shipping companies on drawing up policies on mental health and mental illness.
Companies are recommended to adopt such policies; if they already have policies in place, they are recommended to review them in the light of these guidelines.

Read the full publication

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