For your eyes only

Friday, July 13, 2018, 1:17 a.m.
By Atty. Dennis R. Gorecho

Protection of eyes is of paramount importance while working on ships. Shipboard jobs such as welding, chipping, painting, and working with hazardous material such as oil and chemicals as well as exposure to the sun’s UV rays pose great danger to the seafarer ’s eyes.   If an accident occurs, and an eye is exposed to harmful materials or substances, it will only take seconds for a severe injury to ensue.

A seafarer’s entitlement for medical benefits due to an eye condition is dependent on basically two things:  (a) he suffered this illness during the term of his employment contract and (b) his illness is one of the listed occupational disease or that his illness or injury is work-related.

Aside from blindness, the POEA contract identified as work-related illness the following: (a) Cancer of the corneal surface of the eye due to tar, pitch, bitumen, mineral oil or paraffin, or compound product or residue of these substances, (b) Vitreal hemorrhage and retinal detachment caused by the strain upon lifting of heavy loads and (c) Cataract and pterygium caused by prolonged exposure to UV light or welding, wind abrasion and sea breeze.

A seafarer who is diagnosed with color blindness, more often than not will not be given medical attention. Companies do not consider such condition as work-related as they argue that some cases are genetic, a result of other diseases such as diabetes and multiple sclerosis or acquired over time due to the aging process and medication.

The POEA contract states that a seafarer who suffered blindness or total and permanent loss of vision of both eyes may be assessed with a disability grading of Grade 1, or be declared total permanently disabled.

Companies usually argue that under the POEA contract, only those seafarers that are classified under Grade 1 disabilities are considered to have suffered total and permanent disability and therefore entitled to US$60,000.00 as disability benefits.

However, the POEA contract is not really reflective of the benefits that should be given to the seafarer based on the grading system. There are medical conditions that are classified as a partial disability (between Grade 2 to 14) but in essence, should have been considered as total permanent (Grade 1).

A seafarer who is diagnosed to have total blindness of one eye and fifty percent (50%) loss of vision of the other eye will be assessed as Grade 5 only. On the other hand, Grade 7 assessment will be given to one who lost one eye or total blindness of one eye. Grade 12 will be issued for other illnesses of one of the eyes (Lagophthalmos, Ectropion, Ephiphora, and Ptosis)

In some instances, the defective eyes condition is detected only during the Pre-Employment Medical Examination (PEME). The seafarer may not receive any medical benefits since there is no contract yet to speak of. Such a condition must be documented during the effectivity of the contract.

In reality, seafarers suffering from such eye conditions will never be employed due to visual impairments. Misperceptions and failures to interpret visual information correctly during duties are common contributors to maritime incidents.

The Supreme Court’s consistently ruled that in disability compensation, “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.”  Permanent total disability means disablement of an employee to earn wages in the same kind of work, or work of similar nature that he was trained for or accustomed to perform, or any kind of work which a person of his mentality and attainment could do. Disability need not render the seafarer absolutely helpless or feeble to be compensable; it is enough that it incapacitates to perform his customary work.

Any seafarer who suffered the above medical conditions is, in essence, should be declared total permanent disability, and not merely partial temporary.

Companies cannot deny the fact that a seafarer suffering from any of these medical conditions will be considered more of a liability than an asset if he is allowed to go on board the vessel. He would no longer be able to perform strenuous activities such as the rigorous duties of a seafarer.

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