Strong health culture on the agenda

Covid-19 has radically changed the lives of seafarers around the world, both those who were on board in the advent times of the virus outbreak, as well as those ashore. Shipping companies are found to struggle with port limitations, travel restrictions, and crew changes that were on hold for weeks and now for months. At the same time, the spread of the corona virus has led to lockdowns affecting the work-life of millions of maritime professionals. The post-lockdown period and the virus second wave are finding the shipping companies around the world eager to communicate the strict preventive measures against the pandemic to their sea staff, those signing on and off, as well as to the office staff.

When we are asked how it is best to develop strong health cultures for shipping companies, we stress the importance of embarking on a short-term project with a long-term perspective. By that, we mean it is crucial to engage in a health culture quickly, as the pandemic is spreading worldwide, and at the same time, to implement practices that will endure over time. For this, we suggest that companies build on the existing safety culture initiatives they have. Especially the seafarers are very much acquainted with following protocols for safety. Hence, the introduction of health measures for the prevention of the pandemic will come more normal on the top of other risk management procedures and safety mindset.

It is crucial to engage in a health culture quickly and at the same time, to implement practices that will endure over time

Ensuring a safe working environment amid the pandemic is compelling in the shipping industry, and the formal resignation of marine personnel as key workers is a prerequisite for giving priority to crew changeovers. In the advent times that seafarers, their families and their colleagues ashore are going through, the importance of keeping a good level of physical and mental health and well-being is crucial. Scientists raise the flag for the need of precaution measures which shall be taken on board, during ship-port operations, as well as during repatriation and crew changes.

Lessons learnt from building a strong safety culture: GJ Safety I’s

Behaviours shape a culture. When it comes to safety, no matter how much you improve systems, processes, and tools, there will still be a gap in reaching a target of zero accidents. To create a proactive, strong, and reliable safety culture, it is important to nurture and align good safety behaviours.

Building a strong culture takes commitment. For many years Safety I’s have been a proven concept of guiding safety behaviours in a proactive safety culture. Building a strong (safety) culture requires a common language, i.e. a common set of behaviours that will serve as a guide in your daily work.

In this article, we discuss how we can use this experience in a health culture perspective, with a special focus on the Covid-19 situation.

The GJ Safety I’sTM are 5 unique safety behaviours that in combination describe a best practice approach to ensure safety in work processes. Safety I’sTM is a proven concept. All five Safety-I behaviours follow a ‘give and take’ principle. For example, you should inspire your colleagues and be open to be inspired by others, too. In other words, each behaviour has a two-way flow. In order to build a strong health culture on board and ashore, the Safety I’sTM can be used to address health and well-being behaviours.

              Read more about the GJ Safety I’sTM in this short introduction.
              Learn more about how to implement the GJ Safety I’sTM in this article on ’What can human behaviour do for safety?’’.

Shaping a health culture

The five Safety I’s behaviours are interpreted below with a focus on health and well-being, and especially having in mind the Covid-19 situation. The behaviours that shape a health culture are not limited to the following list; however, they can be used for inspiration and getting aligned with the behavioural-based mind-thinking. The list of behaviours below applies to the conditions of shipboard work and life, as precaution measures or as reactive measure after an outbreak of Covid-19 on board, as well as during port entry and crew changes:

Below are suggested behaviours of Insight. By demonstrating these, you can both gain and give knowledge on health and well-being during the Covid-19 times.

1 / Ask questions and receive others’ knowledge

Be aware of your limitations in skills and knowledge on the matter of health and well-being; scientists around the globe are currently exchanging information in order to learn more about Covid-19 symptoms and how to combat them
Be willing to learn more about how you can be infected and infect others, as well as how to identify signs of fatigue, stress, anxiety and mental illness to yourself and among your colleagues
Improve or develop your key health and hygiene skills to be applied on board and in different touch points during boarding or leaving a ship. Practice the avoidance of face touching (mouth, nose, eyes), wash of hands or alcohol rubbing, wearing mask when interacting with persons from outside the ship, keeping safe distance and even how to discard used tissues, masks and gloves

2 / Seek new insight

Seek advice from credible source of information about the Covid-19, like the World Health Organisation (WHO website), the International Maritime Organisation (IMO website) or national authorities
Seek information about the increased risks of getting infected and transferring the virus due to tobacco use and vapouring, as well as how health vulnerability is affected by obesity and lack of physical exercise
Consult your company’s marine personnel department and your colleagues for experiences from travelling during the pandemic period, best practice suggestions, as well as updated health protocols
Become aware of where to seek medical advice and how to react in case of symptoms like cough, fever, difficulty in breathing

3 / Share your knowledge, skills, and experiences

Understand that valuable knowledge may be lost if you do not share it, and that there is no such thing as a ‘stupid question’
Talk to your colleagues, friends, and family about your worries and how you feel about this pandemic crisis
Avoid listening to upsetting media coverage or non-valid sources of information that might worry and mislead you
Discuss how the regular onboard operations (e.g. cargo operations, safety meetings, ship visits, food preparation, space cleaning and disinfection) can be performed in a virus-free way
Engage in training activities of key hygiene measures (wash hands, wear mask, shipboard self- distancing)

By demonstrating the following suggested behavours of Innovation, you can go beyond compliance and reach for excellence when performing your jobs:

1 / Evaluate health, hygiene, and well-being practices

Re-think the daily routines and challenge them by trying to identify new and better ways for the usual or existing tasks
Assess what did and what did not go well during a job or task (e.g. during food preparation, discarding garbage or getting supplies on board)
Discuss if anything can be improved or done more safely next time or how good behaviours can be reinforced

2/ Be open towards others’ ideas and new ways

Appreciate and consider new ideas and input from international organisations, authorities, your colleagues of all ranks and from the company’s office about keeping a virus-free work place during work tasks and crew changes
Encourage others to voice their suggestions, as well as their questions; do not turn down ideas without giving them thought
Accept to be pushed by others to make improvements in specific key health and hygiene measures, like taking care of personal and work space sanitisation

3 / Implement improvement initiatives

Use the improvement suggestions raised, as well as the lessons learnt
Create and implement a health action plan in case of a person is found infected
Follow up on improvement initiatives and follow through to ensure real anchorage

Below are suggested behaviours of Influence. By demonstrating these, you can motivate your colleagues or subordinates to adopt your good health and well-being behaviours and practices. In the same way, you can be receptive to others’ influence.

1 / Inspire your colleagues with good health, hygiene, and well-being manners

Demonstrate best practices in health and hygiene by applying the key health behaviours. It is essential to set also long-term goals for your physical health and well-being, like quitting smoking, taking a healthy diet, or increasing physical exercise
Follow simple and visible health and hygiene rules, like placing posters, applying relevant screensavers with health measures, install hand hygiene stations
Apply respiratory hygiene by covering your mouth and nose with mask or flexed elbow during cough and sneeze, as well as by avoiding hugging, touching, and hand-greeting especially during travelling from and to the vessel, and getting involved third parties in shipboard operations
Recognise others’ mental and physical health and hygiene actions
Disinfect your own work areas, equipment and tools as appropriate after use
Maintain a healthy lifestyle and demonstrate it so that you are a good role model for your colleagues (like healthy diet, rest, physical exercise, socialising)

2 / Promote an open and trusting environment for discussions

Take a lead on driving good discussions on mental health and fatigue of your colleagues
Encourage colleagues to share their thoughts and concerns in relation to how the pandemic affects their own and their spouses and families’ lives
Initiate regular discussions on board about how work tasks can be improved for ensuring good health, hygiene, and well-being for all crew
In times of extraordinary concern and prolonged contract terms put extra focus on social relations and take initiatives to start social activities

3 / Accept to be influenced by others

Set yourself available for active monitoring by the port health authorities, and remain reachable for daily monitoring on board
Be open to others’ input and appreciate their corrective feedback and advice
Follow the medical instructions of professional health practitioners and organisations towards the preventive and responsive health measures
Provide appropriate feedback on others’ ideas or suggestions, and implement those that are found feasible (e.g. in case of infection on board)

By demonstrating the following suggested behaviours, you can make Intervention accepted, respected, and valued by everyone:

1 / Serve as backup and extra eyes for others

Always carry your responsibility for health, and keep an eye on others’ during work operations (e.g. during food preparation, cargo handling, work in enclosed spaces)
Exercise high health awareness by monitoring and reporting any possible symptoms among the crew, and by activating the outbreak management plan
When seeing a colleague being isolated or silent, approach and offer the opportunity for opening up, as a mental health problem might be hiding
When you or a colleague is in serious need, contact the IMO’s Seafarer Crisis Action Team (SCAT), SeafarerHelp or other relevant credible contact points to get help - most often your employer is doing the very best, but there are national restrictions and obstacles that need a collective reaction

2 / Immediately stop the unsafe act

Stop the unsafe act immediately before the doer or other persons get infected by any means
Give corrective feedback to whatever the rank of the person, and offer the proper sanitisation equipment if needed
Handle the suspected cases of Covid-19 by isolating the person in his/her own cabin or the ship’s medical facility and request medical assessment and advice

3 / Appreciate others’ concern when they interrupt you

Acknowledge the good intentions of the intervener that provides you with corrective feedback
Apply the feedback on current and future jobs on board, as well as during port entry and crew changeovers

Below are suggested behaviours of Integration. By demonstrating these, you can achieve a consistent focus on ensuring and prioritising health and well-being in everything you do.

1 / Incorporate health and well-being practices, considerations, and initiatives in all work and port entry processes

Perceive health as an integrated and ongoing part of your job, and not just as an initial exercise
Ensure that you always consider the risks of getting infected or spreading the virus to others before you do a job or travel from or to the vessel
Discuss health, hygiene, and well-being as an ongoing agenda point during your safety meetings, operations, maintenance works, work debriefs

2 / Embrace health and well-being to become a natural part of your mindset and actions

Make health and well-being part of what you do on a daily basis, and how you think
Consider any hazards and risks of getting infected or spreading the virus present in your job and worksite
Avoid ‘we have done this many times’ attitude, as the virus is more contaminating than other known viruses like the flu; you can actually spread the Covid-19 without having noticed any symptoms on yourself for 14 days

3 / Acknowledge your role as health performance driver

Know that health is for all — high and low ranks, vessel, and office, and that the virus is a threat for all
Acknowledge that everyone on board, ashore and in changeovers has accountability towards ensuring not only his/her own, but everyone’s health
Always feel responsible for and pursue health and well-being, including your and your colleagues’ mental health by showing concern about people’s mental state
Keep a track of your close contacts (like the person who has stayed in the same cabin, or has participated in the same travelling group, cabin steward, medical support worker, port agent, or other) in case needed for contact tracing

The importance of acting proactively and collectively

In the hard times of a pandemic, the main preventive measures lead us back to the basics: washing hands properly, keeping safe distance, wearing a mask. These simple acts are proven to minimise the spread of the coronavirus. The success of these measures relies on social behaviours. The Safety I’s concept serves as a proactive tool of building a strong safety, health and well-being culture. Most importantly, they promote the importance of acting collectively, as single health actions have limited preventive effect.

The success of these measures relies on social behaviours. The Safety I’s concept serves as a proactive tool of building a strong safety, health and well-being culture

The benefits of applying the GJ Safety I’sTM in building a strong health culture:

Safety I’s behaviours encourage a positive, open, communicating, learning and trusting culture
Safety I’s behaviours offer a language and focus enabling crew and office staff to better understand and discuss requirements, methods, ideas and principles
Safety I’s behaviours contribute to the embedment of a focused culture in which people are accountable and share the ownership for safety and health

Here’s a useful health culture poster where we use the Safety I’s as Health I’s. You can use it as a campaign material to continuously promote and foster a sound mental health and well-being on board.

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Contact us for personal advice

Maria Progoulaki
Maria Progoulaki
Regional Representative, Senior Consultant

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