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EHS Software safeguards health of European seafarers

The European Union has christened a nautical project to better manage seafarers' health - except there are no doctors aboard, only researchers and IT-based health software. The "e-healthy" ship project, as it has been dubbed for its digitally-powered health management system, seeks to treat and improve health and safety on merchant ships.

The mission is an attempt to better suit the new health and safety guidelines instated by the International Labour Organization (ILO). The ILO's Maritime Labour Convention places strict aims on member states, instructing that "seafarers' work environment on board ships promotes occupational safety and health."

Given that commercial watercraft often sail for long periods without medical staff, ongoing self-care, diet, and medical emergencies mean healthcare at sea remains an issue. Dr. Marcus Oldenburg, one of the four scientists aboard for the journey, stated that the goal of the floating e-health project is to get a "holistic view of the seafarers' health conditions."

This is accomplished through the use of EHS software, which crew and supervisors can access on a mobile device or shipboard computer. A software platform such as this enables reference and diagnostic utilities that provide guides for emergency care, tools for telemedicine, self-administered vaccinations, hygiene tutorials, response training, and nutritional screenings.

Already one year into its four-year journey, the vessel's interdisciplinary team will survey the needs of the seafarers, benchmark the software platform, and analyze the how the crew uses it.

The project is currently in its "survey phase," which calls for the team's researchers to set out aboard four separate commercial vessels to ascertain the welfare, diet, and fitness of each crew member, in addition to the individual medical proficiency and emergency preparedness of seafarers from diverse backgrounds.

"Crews are also being asked to fill in different anonymous questionnaires about well-being and mental health," Oldenburg says.

"Often the work has to be done under time pressure due to port stays, tides and container loading," he continued, "Seafarers are still exposed to noise and vibration, and although personal safety equipment is used, physical and psychological stress cannot be sufficiently reduced. Another important stressor concerning mental health is the separation from friends and family for up to nine months or even more."

The information gathered from these surveys will enable Dr. Oldenburg and his team to develop health-conscious promotional materials, which seafaring officers can use to increase the awareness of better health practices among their crews.

Alexander Buchmann, CEO of Hanseaticsoft, explained in an interview with Ship-Technology.com how his company's technology was helping to build a new framework for nautical healthcare: "Using a cloud and web-based system, uniform information is always available and accessible via smartphone or tablet regardless of time or location. The crew can enter and access all data — leading to increased transparency and independence."

Kristin Apitz, speaking on behalf of Hanseaticsoft's lead partner, ZfAM, countered Buchmann's optimism with a cautious response.

"We have something in mind and the tech firm has something in mind," she explained, "but we have to prove if this is really necessary, or if this really makes any sense in reality."

According to Apitz, lengthening the reach of medical facilities with telemedical services within a digital platform will pave the way for other digitally-based processes, such as automatically filled and filed medical forms, and will eventually replace the unwieldy medical texts ships are legally compelled to keep aboard.

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