TALKING POINT: Are regulations on seafarers’ work and rest hours and fatigue working?

September 20, 2022
WMU survey image

Each month, we are sharing a discussion piece written by a member of the maritime industry who can offer a unique or interesting perspective on an aspect of seafarers’ welfare. You can join the conversation on our social media channels – Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

The World Maritime University (WMU) is asking seafarers to share the realities of their work and rest hours to find out if further policy action is needed – Capt. Bikram S. Bhatia explains why.

Capt. Bikram worked on oil and chemical tankers for 15 years after starting his career as a deck cadet in 2003. In his current role, he is engaged with the WMU on a research project related to seafarers' work/rest hours and ship manning.

A healthy work-life balance is essential for our physical health and emotional well-being. However, the stress to enhance productivity and flexibility transforms workplaces, and round-the-clock operations are now common in current industrial production and transportation systems. Such workplace characteristics may endanger human physiological and psychological needs, and seafaring is no exception.

Indeed, seafarers work under strict time pressure and operate ships around the clock to satisfy ever-growing global demands. Because seafarers are both working and living on ships, the separation between work and rest is blurred and subject to change at any moment.

Seafarers work in highly complex sociotechnical systems in permanent interaction with unstable natural and social environments. As in any safety-critical industry, shipping requires workers to safeguard operations by taking appropriate decisions and actions whenever necessary. Therefore, policy interventions to protect individuals and ships against fatigue should be a priority to enhance seafarers' vigilance at sea and ensure safe and productive operations.

The STCW 1978, as amended in 1995/2010, and the MLC, 2006 have been adopted by the IMO and ILO to regulate seafarers' hours of work and rest to mitigate fatigue among seafarers.

However, since Seafarer Fatigue: The Cardiff Research Programme (2006) was published, concurrent research works question the implementation and effectiveness of these regulations. In 2020, the WMU issued the report, A culture of adjustment, which confirmed previous findings and underlined systemic failures in implementing work and rest hours regulations.

To complement this work, WMU has embarked on a journey to capture the day-to-day realities of seafarers' work and rest hours through a survey, including recordkeeping practices. The survey aims to quantify specific issues related to the implementation of the regulations, such as adjustments in work and rest hours records.

In their endeavours to collect data, WMU researchers have joined hands with maritime professional bodies – IFSMA, IMarEST, NI – and with the maritime charitable organization ISWAN.

Only seafarers can provide data about their work practices; therefore, seafarers' engagement remains at the core of this data-driven research. After receiving inputs from seafarers, WMU will summarize the data and, if required, identify policy gaps and needs.

Need for seafarers’ inputs

The research team prepared an online survey to collect data on work/rest hours and fatigue. The survey is anonymous. All seafarers from commercial ships who have sailed any time after 1st February 1997 are invited to participate. Any seafarers onboard, on leave, or working ashore can complete the survey.

The survey is accessible in English, Chinese, Indonesian, Russian, Tagalog, and Ukrainian.

Since July 2022, the survey has received support from seafarers across maritime backgrounds (i.e. ranks, nationalities, ship types, flags, shipping companies, etc.).

We thank all seafarers who have participated so far. We strongly encourage seafarers to heighten the survey visibility via social media or other means of sharing and inform their colleagues about the survey.

Do not hesitate to share your experience and complete the survey to enhance its impact.

World Maritime University’s survey and further information can be found here: The survey will be available until December 2022.

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