Managing and preventing occupational health issues onboard vessels – an Interview with Captain Frank Rädler

Marine Medical Solutions (MMS):

MMS is providing telemedical support for Crew on board ships with health problems of any kind of severity and assists officers on board in managing these medical situations. Why shipping companies should additionally consider occupational illnesses on board? What is your understanding of occupational health?

Captain Rädler:

The main objective of occupational health and safety is the prevention of workplace-related injuries and diseases through assortments of instruments including but not limited to:

  • Implementation of good safe working practice and encourage all teams to comply with
  • Motivation for all employees to look for improvements of workplace condition, methods or procedures
  • Obtaining significant information about the current stage of overall health condition in all individual areas of working operations within a company regularly

Occupational illness comprises the identification of potential health exposure risks during work and provides an entire range from prevention of injuries and diseases to medical care.

Irrespective of a business nature of a company, considering of occupational health associated with appropriate safety precautions in place are finally a benefit for every company that arises in improving quality and productivity as well as in reduction of overall costs at all.
And – for sure – this applies to the maritime industry, too.

MMS:

What is your view on challenges for shipping companies with regard of preventing occupational illnesses on board?

Captain Rädler:

From my point of view, a long exposure to certain health hazards is typically presumed until an occupational disease may take effect. This might be but must not be the reason why the attitude of some crew members is often taking such kind of risk not into account during their daily work routine.

Looking to accidents on board that caused injuries you will agree with me, that an accident happened suddenly and results in an immediate raise of awareness on board. Additionally, it takes in many cases crew member off its duty while the remaining crew members have to compensate the loss of work power of the injured person.

Occupational diseases are frequently caused by physical or chemical exposure to human body, for example extreme noise condition in engine rooms, regular carrying of heavy objects or loads when crew members are involved in cargo securing operation, solar UV radiation while working on deck at sea, on anchorages or harbors, handling with remaining asbestos contaminated materials still available on board or certain chemicals with high risk to respiratory organs. Many of such impacts may result in cancer, severe health damage like irreversible deafness or other serious illnesses. Due to the long exposure time towards the first sign of such disease, I have frequently observed onboard a poor awareness amongst employees against those potential health risks. It is essential for the management on board and ashore to identify and analyze potential high health risks in all areas on board and how to mitigate hazard exposure condition efficiently and effectively.

In regard of our issue the compliance with the mandatory requirements of the ISM Code should in particular be verified by determining, that all identified risks to the ships, personnel and the environment have been assessed and safeguards established, the personnel have received the appropriate training and familiarization in the tasks for which they have responsibility and that they are carrying out their work in accordance with the company’s procedures.

The main challenge for the ship management is to include the health risks at the work place into a solid risk assessment in order to sustainably prevent occupational injuries and illnesses.

MMS:

How can MMS and MOC collaborate with shipping companies in order to improve working condition for crew members on board of all ships? How MMS may contribute to a shipping company to achieve goals and milestones on the way to vision „ Zero “?

Captain Rädler:

Vision Zero – a world without work-related injuries and illnesses – is indeed not always achievable but it is a goal. Nobody would like to get sick during work. But let me ask some questions: Does every shipping company have a comprehensive overview of the current situation on board of every ship that is operated by the company? Are there certain working conditions that compromise the health condition for crew members? Are high risk areas, hot spot of frequent accidents or similar hot spots on ships with similar stage of construction well known or identified?

MMS and MOC combine the experience of many years in analyzing and evaluation of injuries on board of the entire fleet to the responsible personnel of interested shipping company. While monitoring all injury cases on every ship of a fleet MMS develops and provides meaningful statistics about high-risk areas, most frequent places, working materials causing injuries or other relevant outcomes for shipping companies. That could help the shore-based management to invest in implementation of appropriate technical or organizational safety measures on board that contributes in reduction or elimination the number of accidents or occupational illnesses that results in overall cost reduction finally.
If desired MMS gives recommendation to shipping company in regard of health management for a suitable reduction of occupational illnesses and assist companies in substitution of harmful chemical agents used on board by means of those with eliminated or reduced hazardous property

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