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Falling and slipping are by far the most common causes of accidents at sea, and the group most affected are service personnel. This is shown in a master’s thesis from the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.
Two work environment students at KTH have studied notifications of occupational injuries in the maritime transport sector on behalf of SAN. The purpose was to cast some light on which occupational categories on board were most affected, the cause of the injuries and proposals for improvements. The students examined notifications made between 2014 and 2016 which resulted in at least one day of absence. During that period there were a total of 476 notifications, of which 73 were due to occupational illnesses and the rest accidents. The most common type of accident was falling, tripping or slipping, represented in 33% of notifications. The result was in line with accident notifications from other industries, which surprised the authors somewhat.
“We had expected more severe accidents due to rough seas and other maritime factors,” says Emma Skepp, who carried out the study with Tove Bäckström. “But most of them took place under normal conditions and could just as well have happened ashore.”
Fall accidents often result in sick leave and in 38% of cases an absence of more than two weeks was anticipated. Most accidents on board take place among service personnel. They represent 49% of all onboard personnel, but account for about 70% of accident notifications.
“Perhaps it’s because service personnel have a particularly vulnerable situation at work,” says Tove Bäckström. “As well as having heavy and stressful work, they are also expected to provide good service and be nice to the passengers. Operating personnel don’t have the same demands.”
Older employees make more notifications
The age group most affected by accidents at work are those between 55 and 59. They account for 28% of notifications, although they represent only 18% of employees.
“This could be because they more often have permanent jobs and dare to report ill,” says Emma Skepp. “There may also be a greater awareness of the importance of notifying accidents among older employees.”
During the three years that were examined, there were only 73 notifications of occupational illnesses. The authors of the report believe that this is a sign of under-
notification rather than a low incidence of illness. One observation they make is that there are very few notifications linked to social and organisational factors.
“We don’t know why that is, but I think in general it’s easier for people to talk about physical problems than mental problems,” says Emma Skepp.
The main reasons behind occupational illnesses notified at sea are ergonomic factors, which account for 47%.
The investigation is called “Arbetsskador i svenska sjöfarten åren 2014-2016” (Occupational injuries in Swedish shipping 2014-2016). It is a thesis in technology, health and work environment development at the Royal Institute of Technology. The report is available on the SAN website, San-nytt.se
Proposals for actions
• Work toward a culture where reporting incidents is seen as something positive.
• Systematic work environment management must be included as an important part of operational management and in daily work on board, especially regarding workloads, working hours and discrimination.
• The work environment of service personnel can be improved by putting extra focus on that group in systematic work environment management, such as preventive work, risk assessment, training and follow up.
• Special focus should be given to women, temporary employees and young employees, since the pattern of notification in these groups deviates from that expected in different ways.

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