On May 9, 2017, the Seamen’s Church Institute hosted a roundtable on “Human Factors in Mariner Health and Safety” at the Center for Maritime Education in Paducah, KY. The event was attended by thirty-one individuals from nine different companies representing brown water, blue water, and the Great Lakes, as well as some interested independent parties. Two experts in Occupational Medicine from Yale Medical School attended plus a group of SCI staff.
The day was split into two parts, the first dealing with the issue of suicide prevention in the inland river community. On this subject, the group heard from SCI Chaplain Kempton Baldridge, who shared his experience in dealing with the aftermath of mariner suicide. A group discussion of the issue ensued, covering topics such as setting cultural and company norms so that employees feel able to openly discuss thoughts of suicide they may be having. Risk factors for suicide that pertain especially to the inland river community were covered: difficulties of “transitioning” between boat and home life; stress caused by hearing about problems at home without being able to do anything about them; typical issues of loss, or “losing out” on home life such as missing birthdays, milestones, or other important life events because of being on board their vessel; access to lethal methods in the form of hunting equipment; under-disclosure among men of emotional problems, physical ailments or medications; and reluctance to talk about the issue in society more widely.
Dr. Rafael Lefkowitz of Yale reminded the group that changes in culture come from the very top of an organization; the encouragement to disclose problems without fear of reprisal is a message that has to trickle down through the hierarchy, and it takes time for this to happen
SCI President and Executive Director, David Rider, reminded the group that professionally-delivered Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is an excellent tool for coping with stressors. SCI then introduced two of their recently-developed resources relating to the issue.
The first, an e-learning module on suicide prevention, can be taken anywhere, at any time by those who are part of SCI’s e-learning network. SCI developed the module with the collaboration of the Education Development Center (EDC), as well as the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), a national charity and think-tank dedicated to the issue.
This module is ideal for providing a brief overview of the problem, offering advice and resources when dealing with employees who are considering suicide. SCI’s unique position as a trusted third party within the maritime community means that they are able to take resources relating to the wider population and customize them to the inland mariner community. For more information on this, please contact Lisa Nally firstname.lastname@example.org, or Michael Nation email@example.com.
The second major resource on offer by SCI is a two-day LivingWorks ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training) course. This is an internationally-recognized course which provides participants with the skills to recognize when someone is at risk of suicide, approach the issue with them, and put together an effective plan which will help them to achieve “safety for now”. Three SCI staff members undertook intensive coaching to become officially registered ASIST trainers, and the Institute is offering the course to anyone who wishes to join it but particularly those involved in the maritime community. For further information or to register, contact ASIST@seamenschurch.org.
After lunch, the discussion turned towards mariner health more generally, with a presentation from Dr. Lefkowitz on mariner wellness as it relates to diet and nutrition. This led into participants sharing their company’s approaches to mariner health, menus, and eating on the boat. Various ideas were presented to encourage mariner wellness, including the development of healthier cookbooks, weight-loss challenges and competitions, coaching on biometrics, exercise equipment, and classes on nutrition.
The conversation extended to other topics related to mariner health, including smoking cessation, fatigue, dehydration, stress management, and exercise.
One of the participants commented, “It was a very helpful day – it was enlightening and interesting to hear what other people in the industry are doing. The open-forum was well-facilitated and it was extremely useful to hear from people in the medical profession as well as those in the industry”.
SCI thanks all of the attendees and the companies who sent them. We look forward to working together to ensure a better quality of life for mariners on the inland waterways, and further afield.