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COVID-19 – What if you cannot work from home?

Posted by: Sharon Dunleavy

The continuing COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in workers being encouraged to stay home and work remotely. For those of us based in the UK, it’s a familiar sight to see our Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, deliver the message ‘work from home unless you absolutely can’t’. We appreciate this is the best thing to protect ourselves and our loved ones, but not everyone can work from home. For these people, especially those in the maritime industry which WRS specialises in recruiting for, working during COVID-19 has presented a very particular set of challenges.

Seafarers on board vessels often work in close contact environments likely to facilitate transmission of the virus and, in some cases, encounter extended periods at sea without calling at any port. An outbreak on board a ship is certainly a concern for the safety and wellbeing of the crew.

Although the most obvious threat of COVID-19 is the risk of infection, the virus can also pose other threats to health and wellbeing that are associated with worry and anxiety. Some of the seafarers we work with have asked us questions like, “Will I be able to leave the ship and return home for my scheduled leave?” or “How much personal risk of infection will I be exposed to when the ship reaches its next port?”. It’s natural for seafarers to have these worries and it’s important that we can support and address their concerns as part of the service we offer and the duty of care we provide.

To maintain continuity of operations onboard, but most importantly to ensure the health and safety of all crew members, WRS has continuously adapted its health and safety procedures throughout the last year.

We talked with our Maritime division to understand some of the challenges it has faced in the past 12 months and how they have been overcome.

What extra safety measurements have been put in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic?

All crew members are now subject to rigorous PCR testing. This includes pre travel testing (up to 72 hours) before leaving their place of residence, followed by another test on location where hotel based self-isolation is required until a negative result is received. Vessel temperature logs have also been implemented and crew must report their temperature twice daily. Crew have been supplied key worker letters to allow travel even during travel restrictions but, to reduce the spread of the virus use of public transport has been restricted.

What happens if a crew member tests positive?

If a crew member tests positive on location, all parties are informed, including the hotel where self-isolation is being carried out. As soon as is practicable, he or she is moved to a dedicated isolation facility, via a COVID-19 specialised taxi service. 14 days quarantine then begins, followed by a further PCR test. Until a negative result is obtained the crew member is restricted from joining the ship.

In the case of a positive result onboard, the entire crew is isolated, and rapid testing is carried out at frequent intervals. The positive case is isolated in a hotel or separate location where possible, quarantining for 14 days and he or she cannot return until a negative result has been obtained. If numerous crew members onboard have tested positive, then a deep clean is required on the next port call.   

Have contracts had to be extended due to the pandemic, where crew could not be repatriated?

At the beginning of the pandemic, international travel was seriously restricted and it was not always possible to perform crew changes. We had to work closely with both client and crew members to ensure this was managed correctly. Some crew members had to extend their contract and they were very understanding of the situation. WRS communicated consistently with all parties and crew changes were performed at the next earliest opportunity.

Have work schedules been affected?

Due to the testing regimes put in place for all crew joining a vessel, the rotation lengths have had to change. However, WRS have successfully managed the changes and it has now become the norm, with everyone adapting to it without major issue.

How do your candidates feel about working onboard?

Talking to the candidates we have found opportunities for, there is a general consensus and belief that it is safer onboard the vessel. With the extra safety measures WRS have put in place, they are more confident that the risk is lessened.

It’s important to us that our candidates have a positive experience onboard ship. Whilst COVID-19 is challenging everyone, we believe adaptability is key to reducing the impact. Questioning and improving processes, including our own, has contributed to ensuring the health and safety of all our crew members around the globe during this period and will continue to do so as the situation evolves.


WRS can save you time and money by supporting internal resources, providing you with the best pre-qualified candidates when you need them. We are a workforce solutions company with offices in Europe, the Middle East, APAC and the Americas, supporting the needs of businesses around the world. We employ specialist sector consultants, who can help you to identify the expatriate and local personnel you need to keep your business moving forward.

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