Seafarer leads call for protection of crews from second-hand smoke

Seafarers can experience negative effects if exposed to second hand smoke. Credit: Joachim Affeldt

A third officer has taken crew health into his own hands with a study on the dangers of second-hand smoking in shipping.

The research, Experiencing Second-Hand Smoking Onboard Ships by Seafarers, sheds light on how second-hand smoke can negatively affect crew’s health and ability to perform routine tasks.

Third officer Jeric Bacasdoon surveyed 555 non-smoking seafarers, as well as conducting random in-depth interviews with a selection of respondents from 79 vessels of different types. He found that 98% of those polled experience second-hand smoking onboard.

Of the most common locations where non-smokers experience second-hand smoking, 56.8% said the crew mess room.

Meanwhile, 23.2% of the non-smoking crew said they are exposed to second-hand smoke in the bridge, while 21.8% experience second-hand smoking in a recreation room. This is followed by the engine control room (ECR) with 8.8%, then the smoking room and officer’s mess room, with 7.2% and 6.5% respectively.

Bacasdoon told Safety at Sea, “Unfortunately, rooms that are designated for smoking are common for both smokers and non-smokers, thus putting non-smoking crew to a greater risk of exposure to second-hand smoke.”

Second-hand smoke was also found to have an impact on seafarers’ ability to perform their jobs effectively. For example, a junior officer said that second-hand smoke in the bridge would impact on tasks including keeping a proper lookout, plotting positions and writing in the bell book. Another said he opted to leave shared areas rather than socialise to avoid the smoke.

In addition, 70.8% of the non-smoking crew felt discomfort when exposed to second-hand smoke, while 44.2% said they experienced coughing. Difficulty in breathing was reported by 31.8% of the respondents and 18.5% experience headaches when exposed to second-hand smoke. Others reported chest pain, eye irritation, nausea, disorientation, bad odour, allergy rhinitis, sinusitis, nasal pain, and nose irritation.

Bacasdoon told Safety at Sea that he is confident the study would hold up to peer review, which will be carried out shortly in the Phillipines before it is published.

Numerous studies have stated that second-hand smoke has serious effects on health. In 2012, the National Maritime Occupational Health and Safety Committee said that extended exposure to second-hand smoking has links with a range of health disorders from nasal sinus tumours to coronary illness and stroke, as well as a range of breathing complications. Meanwhile a 2017 report by the University of Maryland School of Medicine found that men exposed to second-hand smoke experience lower lung function, higher BMI, lower HDL cholesterol (the "good" cholesterol), higher heart rate, and poorer vascular health.

Bacasdoon said that he is not against smoking onboard but wants to protect non-smokers from the negative health effects of second-hand smoke.

“I conducted this research to really address the problem that is second-hand smoking onboard. I have not just seen it, I am also experiencing it,” he said. “I would also like to use this study to reach proper authorities like IMO and ILO and consider the results of the study to be used in the next ratification of the Maritime Labour Convention 2006.”

Contact: Tanya Blake or follow her on twitter @tanya_blake

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