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Healthy Crew, Safe Vessel: Navigating the Importance of PEME Exams

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Published May 8, 2024 12:28 PM by Dr. Arthur L. Diskin

 

Pre-employment medical examinations (PEME) play a crucial role in ensuring the health and wellness of seafarers in the cruise and commercial maritime sectors. Ship owners and operators rely on PEMEs to assess the fitness of potential employees for the demanding and often challenging environment of working at sea. These medical assessments are essential for maintaining the safety and well-being of crew members, passengers, and the vessel itself. However, balancing the needs of the company with international maritime regulations is vital to ensure compliance with industry standards and promote a healthy workforce. Additional factors such as considering age and nationality-specific screenings and mental health assessments are necessary to ensure a healthy and well-cared-for crew.

Ship owners and operators in the cruise and commercial sectors prioritize PEMEs as part of their pre-employment screening process to assess the medical fitness of individuals before they embark on a maritime career. These medical examinations help identify any underlying medical conditions, physical limitations, or health risks that could impact an individual's ability to perform their duties effectively onboard a ship. By conducting PEMEs, employers can reduce the risk of medical emergencies at sea, enhance onboard safety, ensure the overall well-being of their crew members, properly address medical problems that can be managed at sea and improving onboard safety.  A healthy crew is a safe crew.

In addition to safeguarding the health and safety of employees, PEMEs also assist ship owners and operators in complying with the International Maritime Organization's (IMO) regulations and standards for maritime safety and health. The IMO sets forth guidelines and requirements for medical fitness standards for seafarers, as outlined in the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW) Code. Adhering to these regulations is essential for ensuring that all crew members meet the necessary medical and physical criteria to perform their duties effectively and safely on board.  While these guidelines are somewhat general and encourage the worldwide hiring of capable seafarers, individual owners and operators need to be able to establish criteria that meet the challenges of their specific operations.

Age and nationality-specific screenings are important considerations in PEMEs to account for individual health risks, genetic predispositions, and cultural factors that may impact an individual's medical fitness for work onboard a ship. Age-specific screenings focus on assessing age-related health conditions, such as cardiovascular health, musculoskeletal issues, and cognitive function, which may vary among different age groups. Twenty-year-old female prospective seafarers do not need screening electrocardiograms. A chest x-ray may not be required in a twenty-year-old where strong cessation recommendations would suffice, but a forty-year-old smoker with a 20-pack-year history certainly does. Tailoring medical assessments based on nationality considers genetic predispositions, prevalent health conditions in specific regions such as hypertension incidence and heart disease prevalence, and cultural factors that may influence an individual's health and well-being.

AP Companies can work closely with ship owners, ship operators, manning agencies and P&I Clubs to guide the development of specific PEME protocols and procedures.

Moreover, mental health screening is an integral component of PEMEs in the maritime industry, as mental well-being is critical for the performance, safety, and overall quality of life of seafarers. Mental health assessments aim to evaluate an individual's psychological well-being, emotional stability, and cognitive function to identify any mental health concerns that could impact their ability to work effectively and safely at sea. A comprehensive mental health screening should include elements of a mental status exam and a thorough mental health history to assess an individual's basic cognitive function, emotional state, and psychiatric history including any signs of anxiety, depression, psychosis, cognitive impairment, alcohol or substance abuse. This has long been a neglected area of the PEME assessment, but we certainly became much more aware of the importance during the COVID pandemic.

Incorporating a detailed mental health history in a PEME is essential for identifying any previous or current psychiatric conditions, stress-related disorders, substance abuse issues, or other mental health concerns that could impact an individual's ability to work in a high-pressure and isolated maritime environment. Understanding an individual's mental health background, treatment history, coping mechanisms, and stress management skills is key to addressing mental health needs and providing appropriate support and resources to promote mental well-being at sea.

It is critical that the ship owners and operators are comfortable with the qualifications of the individual medical providers and clinics who are providing PEME exams for their prospective crewmembers. AP Companies maintains a worldwide network of PEME providers and can credential and validate new providers as may be needed by any ship owners, ship operators, manning agencies or P&I Clubs.

The PEME exam process is just one of the components of a robust crew wellness program. Again, a healthy crew is a safe crew.  Missed elements on a PEME exam by substandard providers could result in the employment of seafarers who could put their own health, the health of other crew, or the safety of the vessel in jeopardy.

To prevent such occurrences, AP Companies provides PEME reviews: the medical team examines all supporting documents to ensure the crew member's fitness for duty. Should any issues arise, we may pose additional questions to the crew member and, with the ship owner's approval, request further investigations. AP Companies also provides a comprehensive explanation of the risks associated with hiring the seafarer, empowering the ship owner to make well-informed decisions.

The re-employment medical exams (REME) must meet the same standards as the PEME exams with the additional responsibility of maintain the ability of well-trained crew with qualifying medical conditions to continue to provide services to the company while operating at their peak performance, despite those medical problems.

In conclusion, pre-employment medical examinations (PEMEs) are essential for ship owners and operators in the cruise and commercial maritime sectors to assess the health and fitness of prospective employees, ensure compliance with international maritime regulations, and promote a safe and healthy working environment onboard. Balancing the needs of the company with regulatory requirements, conducting age and nationality-specific screenings, and including comprehensive mental health assessments in PEMEs are critical components of ensuring the overall well-being and performance of seafarers. By prioritizing thorough medical evaluations and mental health screenings in the pre-employment process, ship owners and operators can mitigate health risks, improve safety at sea, and support the mental and physical health of their crew members in the maritime industry.

Dr. Arthur L. Diskin is a graduate of the University of Miami School of Medicine with specialty training in Emergency Medicine and an interest in critical care. He is certified by the American Board of Emergency Medicine and is a Fellow of the American College of Emergency Physicians. He has held leadership roles such as the Past President of the Florida College of Emergency Physicians and is the former Chief of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, Florida, and Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach, Florida.

For more information, please visit https://apcmaritime.com/

 

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.