By Sidney F. Pucan, M.D.
Working on ships has its advantages and perks, but it also has its share of peril with regards to the health and safety concerns of seafarers. Many injuries happen onboard through not being careful. Most of these accidents that happen are the result of carelessness and can easily be avoided if safety precautions are adhered to.
Back pain is a common problem among seafarers and back injuries are a major cause of repatriation. As simple as it seems, attempting to lift heavy loads without the help of a colleague is a very common source of serious injury. Proper posture should be observed by seafarers while lifting to avoid strained back muscles.
Back pain is one of the top claims from Filipino crews from 2010-2015, representing about 11% of total claims and is the third most common claim (see table).
Source: Standard Safety: Seafarer Wellbeing, October 2018
An injured seafarer may find that his ability to do his job is affected and that his lifestyle in general may have to change. Shipowners on the other hand may have to bear substantial costs when an injured seafarer is unable to perform his duties on board. Since most back injuries are preventable, primarily by the use of proper lifting techniques, there is a need to remind shipowners and crew of the importance of adhering to the proper instructions for lifting and manual handling of loads – regardless of the type of work and the time schedule involved in each particular task.
*How to avoid back injuries during lifting operations.
The Britannia P&I Club has issued a useful guide for seafarers focusing on back injuries and lifting. The Club’s latest Health Watch newsletter highlights the subject of crew injuries caused by the strain of lifting, pulling and pushing objects in the dynamic environment. Learning and following the correct method for the lifting and handling of heavy loads can help to prevent injury and avoid back pain.
SAFE LIFTING TIPS:
- KNOW YOUR LIMITS
- THINK BEFORE YOU LIFT
- KEEP THE LOAD CLOSE TO THE WAIST
- ADOPT A STABLE POSITION
- ENSURE A GOOD HOLD ON THE LOAD
- DON’T BEND YOUR BACK WHEN LIFTING
- DON’T FLEX THE BACK ANY FURTHER WHILE
- DON’T TWIST WHEN YOU LIFT
- KEEP YOUR HEAD UP
- MOVE SMOOTHLY
- LOWER DOWN, THEN ADJUST
Prevention is always better than cure! Illness can strike at any time but knowing and preventing the risks before they occur is good practice. If you feel discomfort or pain in your back area, consult with medical personnel right away or advise your Master so he can decide on the best course of action.