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Catarina Persson enjoys her work as chief safety delegate, but the atmosphere on board has got tougher and her job has become increasingly difficult to manage. She is now putting her hopes into a newly organised working group. 

Catarina Persson, who works with the service personnel on the Birka, says that she has always had a sense of justice. As far back as her childhood, she wanted things to be fair and for people around her to feel good. The same conviction made her take on the role of safety representative three years ago.

”You can be involved and influence things. We’ve made several improvements, such as non-slip floors in the serving aisles and better cooperation for staff on long-term sick leave,” she says when we meet on board during a stay in port in Stockholm.

”Over the last few years the atmosphere on board has got tougher,” says Catarina, who began work on board in 2011.  The problems began with a major re-organisation on 1 January 2015 when the old work teams were disbanded, shifts became longer and relief days were changed. Since then things have become worse.

”Many of the crew are feeling bad and come to me to talk about it. They are worn out and some don’t feel happy about the new groups that have been made.”

This discontent is reflected in the sickness statistics.

”In August we had an alarming amount of sickness registered,” says Catarina. ”It is mainly caused by musculoskeletal problems and psycho-social diagnoses. It is an unhealthy workplace at the moment.”

There is also a large demand for substitutes to replace those on sick leave.

”It is good to get new staff, but when there are so many it increases the workload for the usual personnel. We are already understaffed, which means that the service personnel must be really efficient – but you can’t demand that from new recruits.”

Since there was no consequence analysis or risk assessment before the reorganisation, the safety representatives put in a report on deficiencies in the work environment (a so-called 66a) to the Swedish Transport Agency. The Agency agreed with the safety representatives. So did the administrative court after the shipping company appealed the decision. Yet nothing has happened, says Catarina.

”But a change must come. As well as the staff’s suffering, all this sick leave costs the company a huge amount of money, and when the staff feel bad it is bound to affect the service on board in the end.”

Mapping ergonomics

Despite all these problems, Catarina Persson believes it is possible to turn things around. A first step was taken at the beginning of the summer when two ergonomists came on board to make a survey of heavy lifting, twisting and working heights. Their report will now be considered by the company, the ergonomics team and the safety representatives. A working group has also been set up on board, going under the name of The good workplace. It consists of all the department managers and their safety delegates, as well as the ship’s nurses and union representatives.

”Everyone must start to think in a ”we” perspective, where the crew and the company work together and not against each other,” says Catarina. ”All of us who work on board here want to do a good job and want things to go well for the company.”

Linda Sundgren


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