New Guidelines to protect health and safety of Seafarers

The ‘Meeting of Experts on Maritime Occupational Safety and Health’ held in Geneva, October 13-17, resulted in a set of 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 Occupational Safety and Health (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. A total of 102 delegates attended the meeting organized by the International Labour Organization (ILO), 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 agenda 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. 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.”

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