Making a business case for wellbeing

An evidence-based approach to seafarer health can measure, evaluate and demonstrate progression

By Sandra Welch

As shipping recovers from the upheaval of the past few years, the industry is now at a significant crossroads. Existing factors like the effects of the pandemic, geopolitical turmoil, overwork, the cost-of-living crisis, and more, have played a role in why skilled and experienced seafarers may be questioning whether or not they want to spend their career in shipping, and cadets are assessing whether available incentives outweigh potential concerns.

While seafarer resilience is a great strength in our industry, expecting resilience to solely overcome these obstacles is foolhardy. We must address the issues themselves if we hope to achieve real change.

It is unsurprising therefore that job security, welfare and mental health are continued key priorities. But how can the industry assess if these needs are consistently being met? Proof of effective change will need to be documented and requires us to measure genuine outcomes from implemented measures year-on-year.

For those looking to make changes, the industry already has numerous studies and surveys that offer suggestions for improving seafarer health and wellbeing. However, for those in the industry looking for more evidence-based approaches – particularly to satisfy internal or external stakeholders – it’s important to measure and evaluate implementation of wellbeing practices and year-on-year progression to show the link between putting policies in place and the resulting concrete outcomes.

Our goal is to move beyond recommended health initiatives to a record of data that assesses whether or not wellbeing interventions are truly impacting crew in a way that is meaningful to seafarers themselves.

To do this, we drew on our landmark research study of wellbeing initiatives and the barriers to implementation to propose viable key performance indicators (KPIs) for shipowners and operators, charterers, and other industry stakeholders to record and assess gaps in existing conditions on board. We are collaborating with interested parties to ensure that we not only suggest viable measures, but work with them to truly understand where barriers to implementation continue to exist.

Bringing everyone to the table

That said, with 200 years of supporting seafarers under our belt, we know the importance of seafarers being a part of these discussions from the outset, rather than simply subjects of study or included as an afterthought. It is important to us that crew members are not only represented throughout this process, but that they have an equal say in what affects their workplace and living conditions.

This is why we are calling on seafarers to join us and provide feedback through our focus groups, roundtables, and working group discussions. This is a chance to work with industry stakeholders who have committed to seeking viable and actionable solutions, and achieving a balance between what is actually possible to implement and what we need to work towards for future success.

There is no doubt that crew with strong interpersonal and professional networks are often already able to evaluate through their own experiences and word of mouth the companies that are desirable to work for, and which ones are a temporary measure until more stable employment becomes available. However, for newer cadets with smaller networks and industry stakeholders who want to make meaningful change, this system of KPIs can offer a valuable source of information and a way to create sustainable change.

Better working conditions, improved job security, the implementation of regulations and company welfare policies, connectivity, and nutrition all play important roles in building and sustaining seafarer resilience for the duration of a crew member’s career. Proactive ship owners, operators, and charterers will need to assess how to meet these needs and find viable compromises to retain and attract talented crew members. Those that have taken measures and shown good faith with seafarers are more likely to see higher levels of recruitment and retention.

Our industry is changing, and we have the chance to change it for the better – not only for ourselves, but for everyone that follows. We can do it by working together.

Sandra Welch is CEO of the Seafarers Hospital Society, Crew can register their interest via the SHS website at https://seahospital. and find information on SHS’ suggested KPIs at