When we think of accidents on yachts, we think of major incidents such as a hatch falling and crushing someone’s fingers, a watertight door closing on a crew member’s leg, or a crew member being crushed between the boat and the dock.
These tragic accidents should never happen, but accidents do happen. Health and safety onboard means not just preventing accidents, but promoting safety. Stews have a big part to play in promoting health and safety onboard.
Studies show that the most common health and safety risks involve illness due to food poisoning, slip and falls, and back and joint injuries resulting from over-exhaustion and improper lifting. And there is an association between job stress and health problems that create an overall risk to wellness. Proper self-care is the issue here; you have to take responsibility for your own health and safety.
Food-borne illness is a common malady. The spread of food-borne illness due to viruses and/or bacteria is problematic because it spreads through the air and on surfaces that an infected person has touched. As the middleman between the chef and guests, stews play a crucial role here. Correct personal hygiene and frequent hand-washing can prevent many incidents. Proper food handling, wearing rubber gloves to handle food, and keeping long hair tied back reduces the risk.
Slip-and-fall injuries are sometimes due to unsafe work conditions, inattention and exhaustion. On most yachts, stews are given an hour or two break as part of our daily schedule. That break is meant to provide you with the time to rest. Even though it may be tempting to get off the boat and enjoy the local surroundings, sometimes it would be best to get off your feet. Do not underestimate the power of a 20-minute nap.
There are certain characteristics about the work stews perform on a daily basis that put them at risk, requiring certain body positions that are dangerous. For instance, I’ve worked on boats that had places that were almost impossible to clean — that last corner of the ceiling over the stairwell, for example, when you are creeping out onto a 2-inch ledge with your vinegar and water to get at that last smudge. Even cleaning the windshield on the inside of the wheelhouse can require acts of contortion.
Lifting, carrying and stowing cases of food and beverages while provisioning are a common cause of low back injuries. Stews need to work smarter, not harder, when working in confined spaces.
It’s easy to get hurt climbing around on the yacht, and if you are out of shape or have a pre-existing injury, it only adds to the risk. Tell the captain if you have hurt yourself or have a condition that might prevent you from doing your job safely. Something as simple as a pulled muscle in your back from sneezing in the shower could put you and others at unnecessary risk for a more serious injury.
Be sure you understand all of the health and safety policies onboard the vessel. When you join a vessel and you have the initial safety walk-through, don’t just get it and forget it. There are many ways stews could inadvertently injure themselves or someone else if they do not understand their responsibilities.
Make sure you know where all of the fire extinguishers are, know the station bill and know what is required of you if there is an incident. That’s what safety drills are for, and if you are not sure what your role is in an emergency, have the captain or first officer clarify that for you. The rest of the crew are depending on you.
Learn to use equipment the right way, and if something malfunctions, report it. For example, it is common for electrical cords to become frayed, and then using that appliance creates a safety hazard. Also, be aware of other electrical hazards. If you need to work in an area where the power has been turned off, consult the captain and the engineer to be sure that no one is working in that area who may be injured or killed if you turn the power back on.
These are all ways that will help you prevent accidents. But that is not the best way to promote safety. Focusing on wellness is the best way to keep crew members safe. Having a wellness program in place and being aware of the responsibilities crew members have to each other in promoting safety can have a positive impact.
As a rule, stews play a big role in the team by providing social support. By working together to help make sure that everyone is eating right, getting enough rest and working safely, you promote the well-being and health of your team.
Alene Keenan has been a megayacht stewardess for 20 years. She offers interior crew training seminars, and onboard training through Yacht Stew Solutions (www.yachtstewsolutions.com). Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.