The news is buzzing with the latest update of COVID-19 cases. As figures keep climbing, port authorities have alerted vessels of travel restrictions and lockdowns. Crew members who have been sailing for months are told that the next crew change is postponed until further notice as relief is stranded or banned from traveling overseas. Getting on land for some fresh air is out of the question as no one is allowed to leave the ship for fear that they might acquire the virus while ashore. There is no guarantee when seafarers can finally see their loved ones back home. Tension among crew members runs high due to pressure and frustration, while friendly chats are limited due to physical distancing on board. With the pandemic in the picture and the usual stresses of a seafarer’s daily job, life at sea is bleak and uncertain.

High stress situations led to poor communication and lack of positivity on board

The world was greatly immobilised by COVID-19, and the maritime industry is one of those hardest hit. Travel bans and lockdowns imposed by authorities led to major disruptions in shipping operations. As everyone in the industry struggles to cope with the said disruptions, crew members on board tend to get caught between frustration and pressure. Crew members’ feeling of frustration and pressure can affect the way they communicate with each other. When crew members experience high level of frustration and pressure, they can have difficulty in expressing things in an appropriate way, and hence the possible cause of poor communication among them.

During operations on board, some of us tend to yell at one another. (One crew member described)

The overall atmosphere on board has also become less positive because of the unfortunate stories about the pandemic and the uncertainty of relief for crew change. According to an article on ABC News, at least 300, 000 seafarers are still stranded as of September as travel bans and disembarkation and embarkation restrictions, and quarantine measures continue to plague the industry despite great efforts from shipowners and seafarer organisations.

There is also a downward trend in the happiness level of seafarers as stated in the latest Seafarers Happiness Index of The Mission to Seafarers.

If people are locked on vessels and have to continue working with no chance for crew change, don’t expect that they will be happy. (Part of Seafarers Happiness Index of The Mission to Seafarers' Q2 2020 report said)

Poor communication and negativity are safety hazards

Without good communication among crew and between ship and shore, and the lack of positivity on board, the safety of the crew may be compromised. Stressed crew members are more likely to make mistakes and poor decisions. Furthermore, too much stress can harm the immune system, which in turn makes an individual more prone to the virus and other diseases. Because of this, it is a must to address poor communication and negativity on board.

In distressful times, our frontliners at sea can count on Safety Delta

Meaningful dialogues and positive work atmosphere are necessary

Stressful situations require meaningful dialogues among the crew members and between the crew and the shore-staff. These dialogues give the crew a chance to express themselves and air their frustrations. This can also help the shore-staff be informed of how the crew are feeling so that they can better assist them especially during difficult times.

Meanwhile, helping the crew maintain positive outlook through activities can make them feel less anxious and homesick. Reminders on the value of respect, openness, recognition, and good health and well-being can help the crew, especially the leaders maintain positivity on board. This positive outlook becomes the foundation of harmonious relationships, which leads to increased collaboration, commitment to the job, productivity and improved safety performance.

For shipping companies, effective communication and positivity on board means a resilient work force ready to face the challenges.

Safety Delta is a safety culture tool that seafarers can rely on during challenging times

Safety Delta helps spark healthy conversations among the crew and between on board and shore staff. The three stages of Safety Delta are aimed at empowering the crew with skills and knowledge very essential especially during this time of a global pandemic.

First, the perception of the crew is measured through a Crew Safety Diagnosis Survey. This survey is done anonymously and confidentially, so the crew can express themselves with honesty.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are stuck on board and facing different safety, work, and home-related challenges. And we need to voice out of or simply report these challenges or else we may blow up. Fortunately, our company subscribes to Safety Delta so we can express ourselves through the survey. (According to seafarers who participated in a Safety Delta cycle during the pandemic)

Then, the crew conduct a Dialogue to discuss the results of the survey, how it reflects the situation on board, and which safety areas to improve on. It is also through these guided Dialogues that members of the crew can voice out their concerns to their leaders without fear of being judged or blamed. Next, the ship and the shore-staff can discuss the actions that should be taken to address the needs of the crew on board.

During the on board dialogue, we discussed the survey results and focused on areas where reinforcement is required (safety reporting) and where improvement is needed (health and well-being). Safety Delta confirms that health and well-being should be of priority, especially in this time of pandemic. (This is cited by a crew member who participated in a Safety Delta cycle during the pandemic)

Create and maintain optimism through activities

Finally, the safety skills and practices of the crew undergo Development. The many activities on different safety areas in the Safety Delta Learning Library can help the crew create and maintain optimism on board. For example, the subject Positivity at Work highlights the importance of positive attitude and practices to effective and safe operations. Meanwhile, subjects under Health and Well-being include Handling time pressure, Fatigue management, Using appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), and Mental health awareness. The learnings the crew can get from having these subjects can empower them with skills and knowledge essential to the difficult tasks on board. Leaders on vessels who have conducted Safety Delta shared that they would often give out soft drinks, sweets, and other treats as incentives for the participants and activity winners. By participating in worthwhile activities, crew members are able to ease the burdens of stress and homesickness.

Amidst the pandemic we are facing as well as overdue contracts, we manage to maintain our morale and remain positive by doing the Safety Delta activities. (Seafarers reported)

Indeed, Safety Delta can help realign the crew’s focus on to positive safety practices aimed at helping them develop and maintain their health and well-being and perform their duties on board safely and effectively. Even though the future remains unpredictable, one thing is for sure, prioritising onboard safety culture is worth it.

Try Safety Delta

Right now we are making some of our Safety Delta Learning Library modules available for interested companies and Safety at Sea subscribers. The first sample modules are about Risk Management and you can gain free access to the activties by contacting j.haugland@green-jakobsen.com for logon details.

Get access to a free Safety Delta module

Contact us for more information and logon details

Ida Krogh
Ida Krogh
Consultant, Safety Delta Product Manager (presently on maternity leave)
Copenhagen

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