Tuesday, February 12, 2019, 12:01 p.m.
By Atty. Dennis R. Gorecho

A job of a seafarer is not exactly a walk in the park as one  with a  heart condition is “a walking time bomb ready to explode towards the end of his employment days.” (GSIS vs. Alcaraz, GR. 187474, February 6, 2013)

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a term to describe conditions of the heart and blood vessels and is the leading cause of death in the country today according to the Department of Health.

Common CVDs include, among others, coronary heart diseases/ischemic heart disease, cerebrovascular accident or stroke, and hypertension or elevated blood pressure.

Under  the POEA  Standard Employment Contract,   CVD is considered an occupational disease for which a seafarer may claim compensation if  the following conditions are met: (a) when the heart disease was aggravated by reasons of the nature of the seafarer’s work, (b) the severity of the strain of the work may be sufficient and followed within 24 hours by clinical signs of cardiac insult, and (c)  signs and symptoms of cardiac injury appeared during his work and the same persisted.

In several cases, cardiovascular disease, coronary artery disease, as well as other heart ailments were held to be compensable as a total permanent disability by the Supreme Court.

Seafarers working for companies for a long period of time is normally saddled with heavy responsibilities relative to the navigation of the vessel, ship safety, and management of emergencies. (Magsaysay Mitsui OSK Marine, Inc.. vs. Juanito Bengson; G.R. No. 198528, October 13, 2014)

A seafarer can be subjected to physical and mental stress and strain. One’s responsibilities cause heavy burdens on a seafarer ’s shoulders all these years and certainly may be 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.

Notably, 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 seafarer normally spends much of his productive years with the company under several employment contracts that were continuously renewed. His years of service certainly will take a toll on his body, and he could not have contracted his illness elsewhere except while working for the company.

The case of Carlos N. Nisda vs. Sea Serve Maritime Agency, et. al. (G.R. No. 179177, July 23, 2009) made it clear that by showing the reasonable connection between the seafarer’s  work and the development and exacerbation of his CVD,  he may claim for payment of disability benefits under the POEA contract. The physical discomforts for which he sought medical attention when he was abroad  bear the hallmarks of coronary artery disease that did not develop overnight hence, making it highly possible that he had the disease while he was still onboard during the life of his POEA contract,  although it went undiagnosed because he had yet to experience the symptoms.

The fact that he was deployed by his employers numerous times, which job was found to be arduous and grueling, showed a reasonable connection between the nature of his job and his heart disease.  Accordingly, the disease was work-related given the difficult nature of his job that caused his disease or at least, aggravated any pre-existing conditions that he might have had.

Considering the repulsive physical manifestation of the disease, it’s chronic nature, lack of long-term cure and the vulnerability of the patient to cardiovascular diseases, a seafarer would no longer be able to perform strenuous activities such as the rigorous duties of a seafarer.

Companies definitely will no longer hire a seafarer due to his medical condition, especially the high risk of having heart failure or stroke in the future. From the business point of view, it will be risky for them to let him be re-employed since the harsh working environment might only aggravate the seafarer’s fragile condition and in the end expose the company to more serious insurance liabilities.

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 a seafarer’s heart condition. Prolonged and continued exposure to the same could probably risk him to another attack (Oriental Shipmgt. Co., Inc. vs. Bastol (G.R. 168269 January 29, 2010.)

This article was also published in Cebu Daily News:

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