New safety and health guidelines to protect seafarers

Maritime occupational safety and health experts agreed on guidelines to bolster the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 to further protect seafarers at a recent meeting in Geneva.

Recognising the special needs of seafarers, experts have agreed on guidelines to assist governments to implement occupational safety and health provisions previously set down in the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 (MLC, 2006).

Intended to provide supplementary practical information to be reflected in national laws and other measures, the OSH guidelines deal with the special maritime working environment. This includes demanding physical working conditions, potentially hazardous tasks, isolation, long hours of work, rigid organizational structures and high levels of stress and fatigue.

“We are very pleased with the outcome of the work of the expert meeting this week. We believe in promoting compliance with the MLC and the new guidelines that we have agreed will make an effective contribution to this,” said Tim Springett, Vice-Chairman for the Employers’ Group.

The guidelines were discussed by a total of 102 delegates, including, six government, six shipowner and six seafarer experts, observers and advisers from 42 other governments, and observers from intergovernmental organizations and non-governmental organizations.

The meeting, held in Geneva from 13-17 October, addressed all areas of seafarers’ occupational safety and health, including such areas as alcohol and drug abuse, violence and harassment, and infectious diseases. The document details responsibilities for governments, shipowners and seafarers related to accident and illness prevention practices, implementation, training and emergency and accident response.

Also noting that he too was pleased with the experts’ results, Patrice Caron, Executive Vice-President of the Seafarers’ International Union of Canada, said, “There will be many challenges to implement occupational safety and health in the maritime sector. The guidelines should provide assistance. Minimizing risk is a fundamental concern to seafarers and for the others persons working on ships.”

Speaking on behalf of the government group, Julie Carlton, Head of Seafarer Safety and Health Branch at the United Kingdom’s Maritime and Coastguard Agency, said, “We are pleased to have agreed these guidelines for competent authorities on the implementation of this important aspect of the MLC, 2006. The final document provides flexibility without compromising on standards of occupational safety and health to protect seafarers, and will be a useful resource for those setting up or reviewing their OSH frameworks in compliance with the MLC, 2006.”

Over 40 ILO Conventions have already been adopted and numerous other instruments, codes of practice and guidelines have been drafted on OSH since the ILO’s creation in 1919. Some are sector-specific, such as the ILO code of practice on accident prevention on board ships at sea and in port. Further OSH provisions are set out in instruments adopted by the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

The MLC, 2006 was adopted in February, 2006 by the International Labour Conference. It includes Regulation 4.3 on health and safety protection and accident prevention, and the related Code, “to ensure that seafarers’ work environment on board ships promotes occupational safety and health.”

The ILO has estimated that 6,300 people die every day as a result of occupational accidents or work-related diseases, adding up to more than 2.3 million deaths per year. Costs can be devastating to workers’ families and their communities, while the economic burden of poor OSH practices is estimated at 4 per cent of global gross domestic product each year.

In their concluding document, experts said the OSH measures “should not be seen as an economic cost but as an investment to continuous improvement to the safety and health of seafarers.”

Meeting of Experts on Maritime Occupational Safety and Health was organised by the Sectoral Activities Department with the International Labour Standards Department of the ILO.

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