Stroke and seafarer’s stress

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A SEAFARER who suffered stroke on board the vessel must be compensated due to work-related stress.

In the case of Magsaysay Mitsui OSK Marine, Inc. vs Bengson (G.R. No. 198528, Oct. 13, 2014), the court disregarded the employer’s claim that the seafarer’s hypertensive cardiovascular disease is not compensable on the sole basis of its company-designated physician’s declaration that such illness is not work-related.

The Supreme Court ruled that the seafarer’s illness, which has likewise been diagnosed as intracerebral hemorrhage or hemorrhagic stroke, is a serious condition, and could be deadly.

The Supreme Court noted that the  seafarer has been working for the company since 1988 and has been serving as Third Mate for 12 years.

Having worked for the principal since 988 under employment contracts that were continuously renewed, it can be said that the seafarer spent much of his productive years with the principal; his years of service certainly took a toll on his body, and he could not have contracted his illness elsewhere except while working for the principal.

As Third Mate, 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 was the ship’s fourth in command, and he was the ship’s safety officer; these responsibilities were heavy burdens on his shoulders all these years, and certainly contributed to the development of his illness.

Besides, it is already recognized that any kind of work or labor produces stress and strain normally resulting in wear and tear of the human body.

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.

The Court has ruled that the list of illnesses/diseases in Section 32-A of the Philipp POEA Standard Employment Contract (SEC) does not preclude other illnesses/diseases 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.

An employee’s disability becomes permanent and total when so declared by the company-designated physician, or, in case of absence of such a declaration either of fitness or permanent total disability, upon the lapse of the 120 or 240-day treatment period while the employee’s disability continues and he is unable to engage in gainful employment during such period, and the company-designated physician fails to arrive at a definite assessment of the employee’s fitness or disability.

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.

Most seafarers are exposed to ongoing elevated stress levels something which has a negative impact on physical and mental health not to mention that it can lower work performance. Of course depending on the duties that have been assigned to someone there might be variations of stress levels due to the type and nature of the work.

Extremely high number of working hours over a lengthier period of time combined with a lack of      sleep can elicit chronic fatigue, health problems and safety risks on the vessels

What makes the job more difficult, aside from exposure to fluctuating temperatures caused by variant weather changes, the job obviously entails laborious manual tasks conducted in a moving ship, which makes for increased work-related stress.

All these factors may exacerbate seafarer’s medical  condition. Prolonged and continued exposure to the same could probably risk the seafarer to another attack.

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(Atty. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the  Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan  law offices. For comments, email info@sapalovelez.com, or call 09175025808 or 09088665786)/PN

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