COVID-19 crisis at the centre of the SAN work environment week

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There were many followers on Facebook of SAN’s digital work environment week about the shipping and the COVID-19 crisis. The week opened with the SAN prize award and closed with a donation to Suicide Zero, a non-profit organization that works to prevent mental illness and suicide.
Due to the ongoing pandemic, the annual SAN conference was reinvented as a digital work environment week. In week 43, at the same time as the European Week for Safety and Health at Work, the SAN Facebook site showed pre-recorded video clips about the problems of crew changeovers and life on board during the pandemic. The digital version was new to everyone involved, but at the end of the week Lars Andersson, SAN’s chairperson, said that the result was above all expectations.
“I think it went really well,” he said. “Many people followed us live on Facebook and the videos can still be watched, in fact they are up until the end of the year.”
Closed borders
Most parts of the SAN conference were pre-recorded, but on Monday there was a live session from the Tallink Silja premises in Vartahamnen, Stockholm. The day started with the SAN prize award, which this year went to Gretel Aronsson, staff purser on Silja Symphony. Before the prize ceremony was even over, congratulations to the prize winner started to stream in on Facebook.
“It felt fantastic,” said Gretel Aronsson, who was interviewed afterwards about how life on board changed after the pandemic broke out in the spring.
Tuesday was focused on the Stena shipping company, where Ulrica Hammarqvist and Carl Mårtensson from Stena Line’s press department described how they organised internal and external communications during the COVID-19 pandemic.
”The shock hit us in the middle of March,” says Carl Mårtensson. “The virus had spread to almost the whole of Europe and it had just started in the areas where we operate. In two or three days the borders were almost entirely closed in Poland, Denmark and Norway. Germany also introduced rules for quarantine.”
The next person to speak that day was Jörgen Lorén, the maritime safety and security manager at Stena Line. He described how the shipping company worked with different measures to keep their traffic operating safely. On Wednesday Jonas Borell, researcher at Lund University, spoke about dealing with the pandemic in a talk entitled, “Is it possible to dodge a crisis?”. He described the Bow-tie model, which can be used to prevent and manage crises. On Thursday it was time for Patrik Jönsson, from the Sea and Air Department of the Transport Agency, who presented the latest summary of accident statistics in the shipping sector. A total of 288 incidents were reported in 2019, which was slightly less than the previous year.
“The most common accidents are engine failures, groundings and miscellaneous,” said Patrik Jönsson. “The miscellaneous category largely consists of events related to loading, unloading and mooring. These three categories together account for around 65% of incidents reported and they often involve injuries – unfortunately quite serious in many cases.
Accidents are often due to technical errors or external factors such a bad weather, strong currents and narrow fairways,” Patrik Jönsson explains.
“But poor communication, organization or procedures are also quite common causes of accidents, which are factors that are often reasonably easy to put right.”
Stuck on board
After Patrik Jönsson it was Dennis Johansson’s turn, Personnel Manager at Wallenius Marine. He talked about the problems the company had, and to some extent still has, with crew changes during the pandemic. He said that seafarers can be on board for three, four or even five months without any real problems – as long as they know about it before they embark. On the other hand, being told you must stay on board just when you are about to go home comes as a shock.
“So if you work ashore and complain that you can’t watch a live football match, think of all the seamen stuck at sea for a year without being able to go home. They are the real heroes,” said Dennis Johansson.
The last talk of the week was given by Agnes Olsson, who works as chief mate on an international cruise ship. She was one of the many seafarers stuck on board when the pandemic broke out. Her ten-week schedule stretched into six months before she could go home.
“Not knowing when you could go home was the worst part,” she says.
Lars Andersson rounded off the week by handing over a donation of SEK 15,000 from SAN to the organisation called Suicide Zero. The donation was a gesture of gratitude to the talkers who had given their time and commitment during the week as well as a way of drawing attention to all the psychological problems among seamen that emerged during the pandemic. The secretary-general of Suicide Zero, Rickard Bracken, was there to receive the donation.
“We cheered with joy when we received news of this donation,” he said. “The COVID crisis will probably cause suicide rates in shipping to increase, as well as in other groups of society – and it is not a rare event. Every year there are 1,600 people in Sweden who commit suicide, or the equivalent of one person every 6 hours. The fact that you have chosen to take up the problem in this way in the shipping sector is incredibly important to us.”
Text and photo Linda Sundgren

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