Stress and the work-related illnesses of seafarers
A seafarer who suffered an illness on board the vessel must be compensated due to work-related stress.
The Supreme Court has recognized that any kind of work or labor produces stress and strain.
It is medically accepted that stress, the Court said, has major effects on a person’s metabolic activity, including seafarers who are exposed to various strain and stress – physical, mental and emotional.
An overseas worker , having to ward off homesickness by reason of being physically separated from his family for the entire duration of his contract, bears a great degree of emotional strain while making an effort to perform his work well.
The strain is even greater in the case of a seafarer who is constantly subjected to the perils of the sea while at work abroad and away from his family.
While inside the vessel for several months, a seafarer is exposed to physical and psychological stress due to his job, lack of sleep, heat stress, emergency works and homesickness for being away from his family.
In most instances, having worked for the principal under employment contracts that were continuously renewed, it can be said that seafarers spent much of their productive years with the principal; their years of service certainly took a toll on their body, and they could not have contracted their illnesses elsewhere except while working for the principal.
Chronic stress can cause a lot of different problems, and if not managed, it can ultimately lead to a medical condition.
A study made by the Centre for Occupational and Health Psychology at Cardiff University noted that the seafarer’s illness is caused by stress on board the vessel.
The study pointed out that seafaring is a dangerous occupation because it includes a number of workplace dangers in combination, something rare in other industries.
Seafarers are exposed to extreme weather conditions: rough seas and storms result in the rolling and pitching of the ship, leading to an unstable environment that makes physical work difficult.
Such conditions, along with ship type, minimal manning, rapid turnaround, short sea passages and traffic conditions, may find seafarers working long hours without sufficient rest.
These factors, the study noted, will undoubtedly result in fatigue, which has potentially disastrous consequences both for the individual in terms of reduced performance and poor health (for example, ulcers, hypertension and hearing loss as a result of excessively noisy machinery and vibration.
Some of the illnesses considered by the Supreme Court as compensable due to stress include cardiovascular disease, coronary artery disease, and other heart-related ailments like stroke.
In the earlier case of Magsaysay Mitsui OSK Marine, Inc, v. Bengson (G.R. No. 198528, October 13, 2014), the Supreme Court ruled that the seafarer’s illness, intracerebral hemorrhage or hemorrhagic stroke, is a serious condition, and could be deadly.
As Third Mate for twelve years with the company, he was saddled with heavy responsibilities relative to navigation of the vessel, ship safety and management of emergencies.
The seafarer was subjected to physical and mental stress and strain: as Third Mate, he is the ship’s fourth in command, and he is the ship’s safety officer; these responsibilities have been heavy burdens on his shoulders all these years, and certainly contributed to the development of his illness.
The Court has ruled that the list of illnesses in Section 32-A of the POEA Standard Employment Contract (SEC) does not preclude other illnesses not so listed from being compensable.
The POEA contract cannot be presumed to contain all the possible injuries that render a seafarer unfit for further sea duties.
And equally significant, it is not the injury which is compensated, but rather it is the incapacity to work resulting in the impairment of one’s earning capacity.
Permanent total disability means disablement to earn wages in the same kind of work, or work of similar nature that he was trained for or accustomed to perform, or any kind of work which a person of his mentality and attainment could do. It does not mean absolute helplessness.
Atty. Dennis R. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, email [email protected], or call 09175025808 or 09088665786).
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