World Day for Safety and Health at Work – at Sea
Safety and welfare of yacht crew is an everyday matter for responsible owners and operators and something that is enshrined in law.
Each year, April 28th is designated as World Day for Safety and Health at Work; it’s also International Workers’ Memorial Day; that the two should occupy the same date in the calendar is appropriate. The latter being a day that is sadly necessary, far too often because of failings with regards to the former.
There are a vast number of workplaces, each with different roles, skills requirements and specifications. For most employees who occupy roles in shore-based workplaces such as offices, warehouses, engineering workshops and building sites, there’s a whole host of legislation that covers them in relation to their work. Everything from training, to personal protective equipment, handling guidelines, legal responsibilities and minimum standards for pay and conditions are covered, but what about workers at sea?
Again, an array of workplaces exist, some mirroring shore-based working environments, others that are completely unique. Then, of course, there is the huge variety of vessels, with yachts – small, to superyacht – passenger ships, cruise liners, commercial and cargo vessels. Each has its own working culture, structure and purpose; just like shore-based workplaces. Keeping people safe on board any of these vessels should be a basic function, so why was it so hard for so long?
Provisional data from the EU shows that more than two-million people suffered an accident at work in 2014. The impact of this can be huge, both for the worker and business owner; in a personal and financial capacity. In many countries, including much of Europe, some states in Canada and Australia and Japan, health and safety legislation dictates that a business owner or manager, (legislation varies on who is the most appropriate person to designate) can be held personally responsible for failures in health and safety in the workplace.
For workers in offices, shops, factories, etc., the introduction of statutory protection under Health and Safety laws made a huge difference. This legislation, that gave a specific individual, or named person, the responsibility for ensuring it was properly adhered to, was the driving force behind a more stringent application of standards. The introduction of proper enforcement, such as inspections and the requirement for clear audit trails sent a clear message to employers. They had to be sure the necessary evidence was available, demonstrating proper standards in training, along with compliance with guidelines and regulations; this created a much safer environment for workers.
But, what about workers at sea? Historically, for marine occupations it was very hit and miss, with some horrific examples of dangerous practices and disregard for the safety of crew. Often this occurred in places where jobs were highly sought after and it was easy to recruit crew members. Many of whom were desperate for work and needed the security of a lengthy contract, no matter the conditions.
With no standard that could be applied across international borders, it was very difficult, if not impossible, to regulate for the protection of those who worked on-board ocean-going vessels. Much relied on the flag under which a vessel was registered, but how could home legislation be enforced if a vessel spent much of its time outside the legislative borders of that nation? Another issue was with flags of convenience, which were in much wider use than they are today. The loopholes these flags opened up allowed less reputable operators to take advantage of vulnerable workers.
Seafaring is not your average occupation and lengthy charters require crew to live and work on a vessel for weeks at a time. During this period, they are travelling into and out of international waters, crossing borders and may dock in the ports of several different countries. It was clear that something needed to be done to ensure these workers were afforded the same protections in the workplace that shore-based employees were already entitled to. The problem was that with so many countries, each having their own standards and laws, the welfare and working conditions of a crew member could vary with each vessel they worked on.
It’s without question that things are much better today. International legislation, in the form of the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) is entrenched in the laws of 82 countries, with Thailand, Albania, Portugal, Estonia, Myanmar, Honduras scheduled to ratify it before the end of 2017 and Sri Lanka and Tunisia to do so in 2018.
The MLC has been a benefit to both owners and their employees, as it means more consistency across the industry. Less scrupulous operators find it more difficult to exploit the unfair advantage that exploiting legal loopholes gave them, as the convention is enforced in ports of all ratifying nations.
It doesn’t matter what size or operation of vessel, crew have the protection they need, while owners and operators are legally responsible for their welfare. For yacht owners, making sure the working environment is safe and legal doesn’t have to be daunting process. You can find out more about how Sealogical can help, thanks to the platform’s safety feature here.
Safety should never be an optional extra or something that has to be fought for; being safe whilst at work is a fundamental right, whether your office is on the fortieth floor or forty miles from shore.