Joining the Navy is an opportunity to serve your country, see the world, and experience thrilling adventures. However, life at sea isn’t always smooth sailing. Navy personnel face significant health risks, including battling extreme weather conditions, handling dangerous equipment, and encountering hazardous chemicals. Your role as a sailor demands bravery and physical endurance but also exposes you to often unnoticed dangers.
Before your next voyage, familiarize yourself with the five occupational hazards you might encounter. This knowledge will allow you to take precautions and stay as safe as possible while living life on the high seas. The adventures are undoubtedly worthwhile, but remember, you have only one body – protect it!
Exposure to Hazardous Materials
As a Navy member, you will likely encounter various hazardous materials during your duties, some of which can pose severe health risks if mishandled or overexposed. One of the most dangerous substances is asbestos, a fibrous mineral once widely used in shipbuilding for its heat resistance and durability.
For decades, asbestos was extensively used in Navy ships, including insulation, flooring, roofing, and piping. Handling materials containing asbestos can release tiny fibers into the air. Inhaling these fibers can lead to lung scarring, known as asbestosis. Prolonged exposure significantly increases the risk of mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive lung cancer. However, there is hope as mesothelioma Navy veterans can now access healthcare, military benefits, and legal compensation.
While the Navy has made efforts to reduce asbestos use in recent decades, its harmful legacy will continue to affect service members’ health for years. By taking proper precautions to limit exposure, you can reduce your health risks from this dangerous yet preventable occupational hazard.
Here are some ways to limit exposure:
- Avoid disturbing or handling asbestos materials unless properly trained.
- Use appropriate protective gear, such as coveralls, gloves, respirators, or masks, if you cannot avoid asbestos contact.
- After potential exposure, shower and wash work clothes separately. Asbestos fibers can cling to hair, skin, and clothing.
- Immediately report damaged or deteriorating asbestos materials to your commanding officer. Friable asbestos poses the greatest health risk as it can release airborne fibers more readily.
- Undergo regular medical exams to monitor for signs of asbestos-related diseases. Early detection of mesothelioma or asbestosis is critical.
Hearing Loss From Loud Machinery
Working on a naval ship exposes you to constant loud noises that can gradually cause permanent hearing damage. The engines, turbines, air compressors, and other heavy machinery produce sounds well above the 85 decibels considered potentially harmful by safety experts. Here are some tips to keep the health of your ears in check:
- Whenever possible, wear earplugs or noise-canceling headphones, especially if you have to work near these incredibly loud devices for extended periods. Many ships provide foam earplugs that can effectively reduce noise levels, preventing injury.
- Take breaks in quieter areas like sleeping quarters, mess halls, or recreation rooms when your ears need a break from the constant loud noises. Even a short 15-minute break can allow your hearing to recover.
- Be vigilant for signs of hearing loss, such as muffled sounds, ear ringing, or the need to increase the volume on devices. Noise-induced damage often occurs gradually, so subtle changes may not be immediately noticeable.
- Exercise extreme caution when heavy equipment is running, as their noises can disorient you and drown out other important sounds. Pay close attention to your surroundings to avoid potential accidents or injuries.
Musculoskeletal Injuries From Physical Labor
Sailing poses physical demands and the risk of musculoskeletal injuries. Preventive measures include proper lifting techniques, seeking assistance for heavy items, and maintaining physical fitness.
In addition, guarding against knee injuries involves suitable gear and leg-strengthening exercises. To prevent shoulder injuries, take breaks during repetitive tasks, use mechanical aids for lifting, and engage in shoulder-targeted exercises. Adhering to safety protocols is of the utmost importance for safeguarding your well-being during sailing adventures.
Mental Health Issues Like Depression and PTSD
Serving in the armed forces can have a significant impact on your mental well-being. The stressful conditions and traumatic events experienced during deployment put Navy personnel at a higher risk for depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Depression and Anxiety
It’s normal to feel sad, worried, or hopeless at times. However, if these feelings persist for weeks and begin affecting your daily life, it might be a sign of depression or an anxiety disorder. The isolation of deployment, challenging work environments, and traumatic experiences can contribute to the development of these conditions among Navy members. If left untreated, they may worsen over time.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
PTSD is a mental health condition triggered by a traumatic event. Symptoms can include flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety, and uncontrollable thoughts related to the event. Navy personnel often encounter traumatic events in their line of duty, including combat exposure, violence, accidents, and the loss of colleagues. PTSD can occur immediately after a trauma or take months or years to manifest. Seeking treatment as soon as possible is crucial for managing symptoms and improving your quality of life.
Fortunately, various treatment options are available for these conditions, such as therapy, medication, mindfulness practices, and peer support groups. Navy leadership and medical staff must identify signs, reduce stigma, and offer accessible mental health resources to support personnel in seeking care.
Motion Sickness and Seasickness From Ship Movement
Life at sea presents many challenges and health risks, including motion sickness or seasickness caused by the constant rocking and rolling of the ship.
This condition results from conflicting signals sent to the brain by the inner ear, eyes, and sensory nerves, leading to symptoms like nausea, dizziness, and vomiting. To reduce seasickness, consider the following tips:
- Focus on the horizon or stationary objects, like the shoreline, to stabilize your senses.
- Spend time on deck in fresh air, as the breeze and improved visibility can alleviate symptoms.
- Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water, but avoid alcohol and caffeine.
- Opt for bland, starchy foods like rice, bananas, and toast while avoiding greasy or spicy foods that may exacerbate nausea.
- For individuals frequently on the water or experiencing chronic motion sickness, prescription medications are available. If over-the-counter remedies do not provide relief or if your symptoms are severe, consult the ship’s doctor.
While the thrill of life at sea draws many to the Navy, it’s important to acknowledge the genuine health and safety risks. Like any profession, it’s essential to be aware of potential challenges. However, for those willing to embrace these challenges, a career in the Navy can be incredibly rewarding. Although the job can be demanding, the sense of camaraderie, valuable skills acquired, and the opportunity to serve one’s country make the hardships worthwhile for most.
If you believe you have what it takes to become a sailor, conduct thorough research, understand the risks, and if you’re still enthusiastic about setting sail, prepare for an adventure like no other.