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Training of safety officers, manufacturing of protective shoes and the 1970s campaign for zero accidents are just a few of the many initiatives that SAN – the Maritime Joint Work Environment Council – has carried out during its 60 years. The yellow¬ing minutes from old council meetings bear witness to how much the work environment at sea has improved over the past decades.

A worker protection conference was held in the community centre of Gothenburg in October 1955. SEKO Seafarers took the initiative and around the table were representatives from all four marine unions: the Swedish Shipowners’ Association, the Royal Swedish Board of Trade, the Joint Industrial Safety Council and Ture Rinman from the Shipping Gazette. The purpose of the meeting was to obtain consensus between the parties on establishing a maritime worker protection council – a cooperating organisation that would work for fewer accidents and a better work environment at sea. From the hand-written, formal minutes of the meeting, it is clear that the participants fully agreed that such a council was needed. Marine accident statistics were depressing and many seamen lost their lives each year on the ships. On 6 April 1956 the parties met again and the Maritime workers’ protection council was formed by unanimous decision. The minutes described the event as historic and the news agency TT called and asked for a bulletin.

There was a lot of work to do for the newly formed council. There were 400 falling accidents alone on board (from heights and from decks) in 1955, and 219 crewmen were injured handling tools. The number of injuries and deaths at sea would be reduced by widespread information campaigns to increase the awareness of risks on board, among other methods. At the council’s first meeting, delegates began to sketch out a proposal for how the propaganda for protection work would be spread. Brochures would be printed and George Uhlin from SEKO Seafarers was appointed to look into the possibility of using sciopticon pictures (a predecessor of the slide projector) for this purpose. The council also contacted the newly formed Radio Service (now SR and SvT) with a proposal for a short-wave programme that would be broadcast for the ships.

One safety issue that was high on the list in the 1950s was fire prevention. The council stated that instructions for fire-fighting on board were necessary, and these were produced. Other issues discussed were the dangers of using tools that produced sparks, and the fact that there were no rules about rust chipping on tankers was considered to be a shortcoming.

Reports on accidents were also taken up during the meetings, which gave an insight into the dangerous environment on board the ships. Among other things, there were serious problems with hot steam in the engine rooms, and at a meeting in March 1958 George Uhlin talked about a man who had been scalded to death on board the T/S Suecia. According to statistics from the Maritime Board, there were around one hundred scalding accidents every year.

AT THE START of the 1960s, drinking habits were a major topic of discussion with regard to safety at work. The issue had certainly been discussed in the previous decade, but it was now given higher priority. In May 1963 the council invited Doctor Ljung, a medical expert in alcohol-related accidents from Broströms Line, to a meeting. Ljung explained that at Broströms they had come to the conclusion that the risk of accidents was five times greater with alcohol in the body. Alcohol was a factor in half of the cases of fatal accidents. The doctor considered that all companies should have rules for the sale and consumption of alcohol at sea and he felt that it was completely wrong for officers and accountants to make money from sales of spirits on board.

Alcohol continued to be discussed throughout the sixties, but many other issues were also raised. One of these was the problem of extensive hearing damage among engine room staff. The fact that not even glass wool was always available to put in your ears was considered to be a scandal. Artur Erwast from the Engineer Officers’ Association proposed that shipping companies must provide hearing protection on board. The chairman and director of the Shipowners’ Association, Douglas Forssblad, said that new regulations on noise levels were under discussion at the National Board of Shipping and Navigation. Pending these regulations, he thought that the board could send out a circular recommending the use of hearing protection.

The seventies was an eventful decade for SAN. During a meeting on 19 March 1973, Lars Baecklund from the Shipowners Association informed the other members about a protective shoe called the Pajaladojan. It was a result of lively work in the protection committee on board the m/s Pajala and that the master of the ship, Gösta Nordström, had contacted the chairman. This resulted in SAN, working alongside a shoe factory, producing working shoes for seafarers. The council also started cooperating with the Red Cross to jointly produce an ABC for accidents. 40,000 posters with instructions for medical treatment would be printed and could be ordered at a nominal cost of one krona each. On 29 March 1976, the first issue of SAN News was also printed. Initially it was only one page of accident information that was sent to shipping companies to be forwarded to their ships. But by far the largest work environment event during the 1970s was the new law on the protection of workers on board. It had several effects on work at SAN, one being that the council produced a training scheme for safety representatives. Olle Bråfelt, founder of the incident reporting system Insjö/Foresea, was co-opted to the SAN board in 1977 as a representative of the Maritime Administration.

”The SAN training was completely unique, in that it was aimed at ratings and officers alike and they went on the course together,” he says. ”This really was a period of cooperation, and I remember the first time I went to a SAN meeting. You couldn’t guess who was the shipping companies’ representative and who was from the seafarers. To me they all looked like seafarers and there were a lot of nods of agreement around the table.

WITH THE NEW legislation in place and extensive research efforts on the work environment at sea, the SAN members decided to launch a massive information campaign at the beginning of the eighties. It was dubbed Zero Accidents, and a huge number of activities were carried out, including poster competitions and the distribution of stickers and films. The merchant fleet’s culture and leisure council added short information clips about the campaign to its video tapes and the Director-General of the Maritime Administration would make an appeal.

”THE CAMPAIGN WAS definitely justified,” says Olle Bråfelt. ”We probably had a dozen deaths on the ships every year due to accidents, and a large number of deaths from work-related diseases following exposure to asbestos, hazardous chemicals and so on. I don’t think there was anything like it in any other industry.”

During the campaign, SAN News was redesigned and became a four-page newspaper. Much of the content came from the Swedish Maritime Administration. Cooperation with the Administration, which later became the Swedish Transport Agency, has continued and the newspaper now has one page that is dedicated to information from the agency on accidents and risks on board.

A decision was made in the mid-eighties to review the council’s overall work environment materials, Better Work environment at Sea (BAM) to make them more modern and user friendly. The task was given to Christer Lindvall, a SAN representative, who was an ombudsman at the time who later became president of the Ship Officers’ Association.

”THOSE WHO WORKED ON BOARD wanted a folder that was more clearly designed for them and their daily work. It was a pretty daunting task, but we were pleased with the results,” he says.

During the 1980s, SAN continued to expand its training activities. The council recognised the need for more knowledge about the work environment at all levels, not just on board. Göran Hansson explains all this. He is a former representative of the Seafarers’ Union, which became part of the SAN board in 1988.

”Our aim was that safety and the work environment would become a central theme from the management down,” he says. Börje Kjellstenius from the Shipowners’ Association, who was chairman of SAN for many years, encouraged shipping companies to invite us to give our courses. It worked out very well.

Another initiative in the 1980s was to improve collaboration with Sweden’s occupational healthcare organisations.

”We held conferences around the country where representatives from occupational healthcare could meet and exchange experience,” says Göran Hansson. There was a great deal of interest in this idea and they became the predecessor for the work environment conferences that SAN now arranges.

Cancer rates among the seafarers was a big issue in the 1990s. Ralph Nilsson, a doctor at Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Gothenburg, was very much involved in this area. When he published his thesis entitled ”Cancer in Seamen” in 1998 it had a major impact on the industry. Among other things, his research showed how the body absorbs carcinogenic substances through the skin and how this was aggravated by the use of oily gloves and dirty overalls. Ralph Nilsson’s work has been continued by Karl Forsell, a chief physician supported by SAN and widely appreciated as a speaker at many of the council’s conferences.

DURING THE 2000s two major changes consolidated work environment initiatives at sea: the application of the Work Environment Act on board and the ratification of the International Maritime Labour Convention (MLC). The whole concept of the work environment broadened and SAN showed more interest in questions relating to job satisfaction, relations and leadership. The 2005 SAN conference held at Arken hotel by the Skandia port included nutrition and exercise as a major topic, and the following year’s theme was ”The art of communicating”. In 2006 the SAN Prize was founded. Every year this prize is awarded to a person or organisation that is particularly engaged in the work environment at sea. The first person to receive the award was Angela Jenhed from Stena Line. She was given the prize for her work in providing the shipping company’s crew with moulded ear defenders.

In 2006 the number of pages in SAN News doubled from four to eight to create more scope for more detailed reports. A few years later the council took the step online with its own website.

The current CEO of the Swedish Shipowners’ Employer Association, Lars Andersson, is convinced that SAN has an important role to play in the years to come.

”Activities at SAN are gaining more and more interest,” he says. ”This is shown by the high participation at our annual work environment conferences. SAN will continue to work toward high quality goals and constant improvements in the work environment for onboard personnel. Psycho-social issues in particular should be given more attention.”   

Linda Sundgren

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