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The Transport Agency’s updated rules on maritime health and safety finally arrived. I must admit I’m in two minds about them. At last, the organisational and social work environment rules are the same for workers on Swedish flagged ships as they are for people working in other jobs. We also have the same safety limits for hazardous substances, at least for a little while. The rules on exposure limits are those that are changed most often, so it is more often the rule than the exception that Swedish seafarers have worse protection than others.

On the other hand, limits for permissible sound levels have been adapted to international requirements. In practice this means that the permissible sound pressure level, which has a logarithmic scale, is more than doubled in the control room and is over ten times greater in engine rooms and workshops. The Transport Agency says that we may need better hearing protection to reduce the risk of injury, but does not consider other effects that noise below the limits has on health, communication and the need for auditory rest.

There is a reason for having uniform rules on health and safety at work, but which rules must we adapt to? The majority of crewmembers in the Swedish seafarers’ register work in the service department on one of our ferries. Is it reasonable to lower our aspirations and adapt to international shipping rules? Or should we give people working on Swedish ships the same rules on health and safety as those who work ashore?

We are now seeing an amazingly rapid rate of change in working life and we need a system of regulations that allows equally fast adaptability to new conditions and challenges. The current system is a jungle for maritime employers, health and safety representatives and employees trying to find out what applies, since things are different for employees ashore and on board, as well as for different types of ship. The Work Environment Authority will also be deciding on an entirely new regulation system in 2020. If we do not adapt to it, the regulations will be virtually impossible to comply with. It is high time that the shipping industry considers what is needed to keep up with developments.

It must be easier to find the relevant regulations and understand them – otherwise it’s just not possible to do the right thing. It is not only about complying with paragraphs but improving working conditions so that nobody is injured or becomes ill because of their work.

Cecilia Österman/
researcher at the Kalmar Maritime Academy

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