Vol 75, No 2 (2024)
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Published online: 2024-06-28

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Aggression, psychological violence and sexual harassment in seafarers in France

Leticia Sanz-Trepiana1, Emmanuelle Bost2, Camille Jégo34, David Lucas56, Emmanuel Fort7
DOI: 10.5603/imh.99382
Pubmed: 38949216
IMH 2024;75(2):121-134.


Background: In a working environment that is predominantly male, very tough physically, with a difficult working environment, occupational exposures and working, verbal and physical aggression can be more frequent than in other sectors. Fishing, merchant shipping and yachting are all sectors where fitness to sail is reassessed every year by doctors in the Seafarers’ Health Service. Seafarers are increasingly reporting insulting, violent or sexist behaviour. The main types of abuse seen on board can be verbal and/or physical aggression, humiliation, whether in private or in front of others. Sexual harassment of women is a very worrying subject.

Materials and methods: It was a retrospective observational study which is part of the professional monitoring of seafarers. The target population was adult seafarers coming for a fitness to sail visit. The group was recruited from seafarers aged over 18 who were being monitored by one of the seafarers’ health services (or local centres). The inclusion period was 4 months between January and April 2023. All the information was collected using a self-questionnaire developed from the questionnaires of the Surveillance Médicale des Expositions des Salariés au Risques Professionnels (SUMER) for health status, job satisfaction and the European mini-module, verbal and physical aggression and psychological violence at work (based on the Leymann questionnaire), sexual violence and aggression based on the sexual harassment questionnaire and the PCLS-5 scale validated and translated into French to assess post-traumatic stress. The population studied was therefore 788 sailors.

Results: The study population was predominantly male (82.3%). The average age was 41.4 years (standard deviation = 11.7). 46.7% of seafarers estimate being in very good health. During the past 12 months, overall, 24.5% of seafarers disclaimed having been victim in work-related context of a verbal aggression, with a significant difference according to the gender (21.1% for men and 41.0% for women). During the last 12 months, overall, 3.2% of seafarers have been victim in work-related context of a physical aggression (2.6% for men and 5.8% for women, NS), whereas 10.9% of seafarers reported hostile behaviour at present. Twenty per cent of seafarers reported sexual harassment in the last 12 months. During the entire working life of seafarers, 65.5% of women and 38.2% of men reported sexual harassment, and 38.8% of seafarers stated that they had experienced at least one traumatic event in the last 12 months.

Discussion: A quarter of seafarers say they have been the victim of verbal or physical aggression at work in the last twelve months. These figures are high, and higher than those of the global survey on violence and harassment at work carried out by the International Labour Organization. One of the most alarming results of our study is the overexposure of women working in the maritime industry to the risk of physical, verbal or sexual assault of any kind. Indeed, in all the questions concerning the experience of verbal and physical aggression, the number of women victims is twice as high as that of their male colleagues, and this difference is statistically significant. As far as prevention is concerned, it seems that an effort is needed in terms of information, since only one seafarer in two knows the procedure to follow in the event of aggression within their shipyard. Communication between shipowners and seafarers needs to be stepped up to ensure that everyone is familiar with the procedures.

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