Multicrewing, limited opportunities for recreation and significant environmental stressors (heat, noise, vibration, confinement, motion, etc.) are noted as other important occupational hazards by Oldenburg et al.14. Multicrewing, in the context of health, may present particular challenges, as different cultures may have quite different causes of, experiences of and expressions of, both physical and psychological problems, and the most effective way of addressing them may also be different across different cultural groups18.
With any crew there will be individual personality differences and knowing something about someone’s personality means being able to understand better how they will respond to a given situation. For instance, extroverts are people whose thinking and behaviour is outward-focused. Introverts are people whose thinking and behaviour is inward-focused. Introverts tend to be quiet and reserved, preferring to spend time on their own. They can concentrate well on tasks and tend to be contemplative. Extroverts, on the other hand, are social and gregarious, preferring to spend time with others. They are energetic and can find it difficult to concentrate, being easily distracted19. Given that work at sea involves what might be called ‘close-isolation’ from other people (being in close quarters with the crew and far away from family and other friends) it is likely that extroverts and introverts will respond differently to different aspects of living and working at sea, and this may present itself as apparently inconsistent behaviour and changes in mood as individuals try to cope with the inescapable aspects of their work-life which they find least easy to deal with.
How an individual responds to a particular set of circumstances may also be influenced by their cultural background. Hofstede20 has identified several dimensions along which cultures vary in their approach to work. Power Distance, for instance, refers to the extent to which less-powerful people accept that power is shared unequally. This score reflects how hierarchical a society is; so for example, Finland scores low on Power Distance (does not accept uneven distribution of power and resources), while the Philippines scores high on Power Distance (are much more accepting of uneven distribution of power and resources). Another dimension, Individualism-Collectivism reflects whether people see their society in terms of ‘I’ or ‘we’. Individualism reflects a preference for loosely-knit society; collectivism is a preference for tightly-knit social frameworks. The USA is a highly individualistic society. China scores at the collectivism end of the scale. Uncertainty Avoidance, another dimension, relates to the extent to which a society seeks to avoid/is uncomfortable with uncertainty or ambiguity. Russia scores high on uncertainty avoidance indicating they are more uncomfortable in ambiguous situations. Ireland scores low on UAI.
While Hofstede’s dimensions have been highly influential in academic psychology (see http://geert-hofstede.com/countries.html), they have also been criticized on theoretical and practical grounds and in terms of the original research methodology used to derive these dimensions21. There is more support for some dimensions than for others. There is also the danger that people can ‘over-read’ culture and see individual’s behaviour to be overly culturally determined, rather than being a background factor to which the individual (foreground) responds18. Notwithstanding these caveats, some of Hofstede’s dimensions appear to have relevance to the maritime sector too. Bao and Yip22 examined the relationship between culture and vessel detention, using Hofstede’s dimensions. They found that high individualism, and high uncertainty avoidance were correlated with low detention rates.