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Seafarers and hernia

Dennis Gorecho .

HERNIA is considered as one of the common seafarer’s  illnesses  as lifting heavy weight is  a normal part of daily routine on board the vessel. 

A five-year study by Dr. Nicomedes Cruz, a Manila-based surgeon, of the causes of medical repatriation among Filipino seafarers revealed that inguinal hernia ranked fifth as the most common illness out  of the 5,315 seafarers studied.

Hernias  occur when the intestines push through a weak spot or tear in the lower abdominal wall, often in the inguinal canal. The inguinal canal is found in the groin. In men, it’s the area where the spermatic cord passes from the abdomen to the scrotum. This cord holds up the testicles. In women, the inguinal canal contains a ligament that helps hold the uterus in place.

Hernias are caused by a combination of muscle weakness and strain. Depending on its cause, a hernia can develop quickly or over a long period of time.

Serious complications from a hernia can result from the trapping of tissues in the hernia — a process called incarceration. Trapped or incarcerated tissues may have their blood supply cut off, leading to damage or death of the tissue, which could result in a dangerous infection or even death

 The POEA contract governs the compensation and benefits for the work-related injury or illness that a seafarer on board sea-going vessels may have suffered during the term of his employment contract.

The seafarer is required to prove that: (1) he suffered an illness; (2) he suffered this illness during the term of his employment contract; (3) he complied with the procedures prescribed under Section 20-B; (4) his illness is one of the enumerated occupational disease or that his illness or injury is otherwise work-related; and (5) he complied with the four conditions under the contract. 

A seafarer’s hernia will be compensable if  all of   the following conditions are met:  (a) the hernia should be of recent origin;  (b). Its appearance was accompanied by pain, discoloration and evidence of a tearing of the tissues; and (c.) the disease was immediately preceded by undue or severe strain arising out of and in the course of employment; and (d)  a protrusion of mass should appear in the area immediately following the alleged strain.

Since one of the requirement for an illness to be compensable is that the seafarer suffered said illness during the effectivity of the POEA contract, it is imperative that his condition or symptoms  must be documented while he is on board the vessel. Otherwise, his claim for disability benefits might be denied due to failure to prove that said illness occurred while his contract is still in force.

A hernia may  be the cause of discomfort and pain, with symptoms often becoming worse when standing, straining, or lifting heavy items. Symptoms include a burning or aching sensation at the bulge, pain or discomfort in the  groin. Occasionally, there will be  pain and swelling around the testicles when the protruding intestine descends into the scrotum accompanied by  nausea, vomiting,  or fever.

It is not sufficient to simply establish that the seafarer’s illness or injury has rendered him permanently or partially disabled; it must also be shown that there is a causal connection between the seafarer’s illness or injury and the work for which he had been contracted

(Lawyer Dennis Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the  Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan  law offices. For comments, e-mail to info@sapalovelez.com, or call 09175025808 or 09088665786)

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