Efforts to improve the work environment pay off for the crew, the shipping company and society in general. This is the conclusion drawn by Cecilia Österman PhD in her thesis presented at the Department of Shipping and Marine Technology at Chalmers University of Technology in December.
The thesis Developing a value proposition of maritime ergonomics includes seven studies focusing on the relationship between the working environment and profitability in shipping. By studying accidents, sickness absence, operational disruptions and turnover, the author concludes that measures taken in the area of work environment give many positive effects.
“They are found at all levels. For those working onboard it is about health and well-being; the shipping companies raise their quality, productivity and efficiency; the industry becomes more attractive, and society has lower costs for sick leave,” says Cecilia Österman.
The conclusions are based on a large number of interviews with seafarers, shipowners and other representatives from the industry. One specific company with a handful of ships has also been followed closely for three years, where the link between the work environment and efficient sea operations has been examined.
“Unfortunately, neither this company nor any of the others I interviewed has calculated the cost of deficiencies in the work environment in financial terms. But when you study the consequences you realise it involves large sums,” says Cecilia Österman.
In her work she has heard numerous descriptions of work environment-related situations which led to huge costs. One example is a crewman who injured his thumb when working onboard.
“He had to be taken ashore offhire, without any compensation for bunkering or rent from the owner. Then they had to fly in a new guy to replace him. That little thumb cost nearly a million,” says Cecilia Österman.
In writing her thesis she has seen that work environment and safety conditions onboard are becoming increasingly important for cargo owners. In many areas they make their own inspections, and sometimes put higher demands on the crew than laws and conventions.
Shipping companies feel that they have to answer more questions about their crews’ competence than previously. Cargo owners have great power when it comes to influencing the work environment onboard.
There are a number of measures that can be taken to decrease costs resulting from a poor work environment, says Cecilia Österman. Accident risks from slippery decks, steep ladders and poor lifting devices should really be avoided at the design stage of the ship. The risks that cannot be completely prevented should be documented so that the crewmembers are well aware of any problems and difficulties onboard. Training is also a good investment.
“You can purchase a new maintenance system for millions, but scrimp on training costs of 10,000. This sort of backwards priority is not rare, and can cause a lot of unnecessary expense and problems.”