Health and safety: Safe working on ships and vessels (2023)

1. Introduction

Usually you should not have to inspect cargo or take samples on a vessel, but if you do, always make sure that the master, crew and any other operatives in the vicinity know what you intend to do. This guidance is intended to provide only an overview of the safety hazards that you may encounter when working on ships and other vessels.

  • You should be aware of these hazards and avoid dangerous situations.
  • You should not enter any area of a vessel that is not open to the general public without specific permission and, if necessary, supervision.
  • If a recognised danger or hazard is unavoidable you should not proceed without adequate training, guidance and, where necessary, the appropriate permission from the master or owners of the vessel.

You should always refer to your national legislation and guidance.

Risk assessments and safe working practices should be available for staff working on ships or vessels.

1.1 Suitable safety equipment

Safety equipment must be available and should be worn. This may include:

  • high-visibility clothing;
  • life-jackets and/or ‘dry suits’;
  • gloves;
  • overalls;
  • non-slip and anti-static footwear (usually with toe protection);
  • safety helmets;
  • intrinsically safe (IS) torch or working light (equipment that is safe to use in a flammable atmosphere).

If you have to enter confined spaces, additional specialist equipment (and training to use it) will be needed, including:

  • personal alert safety system alarm (contains motion sensors and indicates when a person is unconscious);
  • multi-gas alarm personal monitor (detects noxious gases);
  • intrinsically safe (IS) radio/communications line;
  • confined space rescue equipment (compressed-air breathing apparatus);
  • safety harness and lifeline and location line;
  • manual and automatic resuscitation system (MARS).

Health checks, training and regular refresher training are required before using compressed air breathing apparatus.

2. Access to vessels

This section contains guidance on how to board vessels safely. The legislation requires the master of a vessel to provide safe means of getting on and off the ship for anyone with legitimate business on board. This includes customs officers carrying out their duties.

Access to vessels will normally be provided by the accommodation ladder or gangway, which must be safely secured. Where the gangway crosses water, safety nets should also be in place.

You must never attempt to board a vessel until you are sure it is safe to do so. Ladders or gangways are often slippery or iced-up. Non-slip safety footwear will reduce the risk of an accident, but you should still take care — particularly if it is dark. In addition to the guidance below, you should also read the section on working at heights.

2.1 Boarding from the quay

When you board a vessel from the quayside, you should use the accommodation ladder or gangway provided. Before using them, check that:

  • the gangway or ladder is properly rigged and secured;
  • it is deployed at a safe angle and extends one metre above where you are going;
  • the safety nets are in place if you are crossing over water;
  • if you are boarding a roll-on/roll-off ferry, you should do so via the gangway unless the vehicle ramps are the only means of access;
  • where the ship’s decks are below the level of the quay, access equipment should be provided on the vessel. Do not try to jump on board — you might slip or fall;
  • remember that in tidal locations the vessel might rise or fall between your arrival and departure so the access might have changed, e.g. be steeper or not reach properly. If in doubt, ask the master or the deck officer responsible to make it secure.

2.2 Boarding from another vessel

Boarding one vessel from another can be particularly hazardous. Try to avoid it if at all possible. Never attempt this if a vessel is moving. Where it is necessary, it is normally the responsibility of the ship lying outboard (i.e. furthest from the dockside) to provide safe access to the other vessel. The only exception is where the outboard vessel has a much lower freeboard (i.e. the deck is much lower, so access would involve climbing), in which case the vessel with the higher freeboard is responsible for giving you safe access. This will usually involve using rope ladders and is the only time you should use them for gaining access. Don’t try to climb a rope ladder unless you have been shown how to do so safely.

Remember: you must always wear a lifejacket when boarding one vessel from another, and take extreme care — particularly in poor weather.

2.3 Using ladders

Do not use a portable ladder to gain access to a vessel. However, if you need to use one for another reason, it must be of good construction, well-maintained and of adequate strength (ladders marked ‘For domestic use’ must not be used). Also take the following safety precautions:

  • secure the ladder at both ends to prevent slipping;
  • make sure it extends at least one metre above the place you are trying to get to and keep both hands free while climbing;
  • attach tools to a tool belt and store other equipment in a bag carried over your shoulder;
  • always face the ladder when climbing or descending;
  • and move one rung at a time.

Take extra care if you are wearing safety clothing such as a lifejacket or hard hat in case they catch on the rungs.

2.4 Personnel carriers

Personnel carriers are occasionally used by staff who board mobile off-shore drilling units. These are one of the more hazardous means of access and must be used only by people who have been specially trained. The oil industry can help with training any official staff who are likely to use personnel carriers. Any operations involving use of personnel carriers must be well planned and closely supervised. If you are to board a mobile off-shore drilling unit by this method, you should:

  • understand how the transfer is to take place and be satisfied it is safe;
  • wear a lifejacket and any other safety clothing you or your manager consider necessary;
  • make sure that the standby vessel and rescue boat are in attendance;
  • obey all instructions given to you by the person supervising the transfer.

This type of boarding must not take place in poor (stormy) weather.

3. Working on board

Several hazards are common to all areas of vessels. Insects are very resilient and can be found almost anywhere, rats have been found in holds and soiled items can be dropped by people in all areas and should not be touched without gloves.

Ship’s equipment: Never attempt to examine any equipment on board until you have consulted a responsible officer. Unskilled interference with safety equipment, navigational apparatus or electrical systems can affect the seaworthiness of the vessel, jeopardising the safety of the passengers and crew. You would be committing a criminal offence.

Passenger areas and crew quarters: When searching these areas, be wary of sharp objects which may be secreted in the upholstery. If you move any safety equipment, e.g. lifejackets, you must put it back before you leave the vessel.

Stowage compartments and lockers: Beware of hazardous chemicals and equipment. Look first and request assistance from the crew if you are not sure what the area contains.

Toilets: As well as presenting potential health hazards, in the form of discarded hypodermic needles, etc., toilets might contain corrosive cleaning chemicals and disinfectants. If you need to search these areas, wear appropriate safety clothing and equipment, particularly gloves, and wash your hands immediately afterwards.

Galleys: Electrical cooking equipment operates at high voltages and could be very hot. Beware of broken glass, etc. in rubbish bags and bins. Some vessels are equipped with galley lifts. These are particularly dangerous and should not be used for gaining access.

Holds: Holds can be particularly dangerous, especially if loading or unloading is in progress. Seek permission before entering. Wear appropriate safety clothing and a safety helmet. Take great care as the cargo may have shifted during the voyage, particularly if the sea has been rough.

Remember: refer to your national legislation and guidance when working in this dangerous environment.

3.1 What are the hazards?

Hazards on board vessels range in severity. You should only examine and sample cargo on a vessel when there is no alternative. Comprehensive training is required before entering some environments. You should never commence work without informing the master of the vessel or the deck officer responsible.

Some of the major hazards are listed below:

Working alone: There is a danger that, when working alone, you might become trapped or injured and be unable to call for assistance.Working alone: Avoid working alone, but if you have to, maintain good communications with someone responsible for checking on your safety and always notify someone else of your intentions and location before you start. Remember to check your radio before leaving the office.
Lighting: It is the responsibility of the vessel’s master to provide adequate lighting — but this is not always possible.Lighting: If adequate light is not available, e.g. by opening hatches or doorways, a suitable IS torch or working light may be used.
Slips and falls: The deck of the vessel might be wet or coated with oil or fish residues which add to the risk of slipping.Slips and falls: Wear appropriate anti-static non-slip shoes/boots. Pay particular attention in the vicinity of deck machinery, where lubricants may be spilt, or if leaking cargo is identified.
Machinery: A variety of machinery may be in use when the vessel is berthed, including:
  • ventilation equipment;
  • generators;
  • winches;
  • cargo-moving machinery, including fork-lift trucks, cranes, conveyors or elevators.
Machinery: Keep well away from moving machinery and wear high-visibility clothing and a safety helmet.Remember: the operator may have a limited view, particularly in the hold. You must observe any instructions from officers or crew.
Remember: in tidal basins the ship’s mooring lines may require frequent adjustment using winches. Keep well away from these operations.
Asbestos: Modern vessels should not contain any hazardous asbestos, but older vessels may contain asbestos as fire-proofing or thermal insulation.Asbestos: Pay particular attention when on older vessels or vessels registered in countries with lower standards. Do not disturb any pipe-lagging or insulation. If you consider there may be a risk, leave the area immediately and notify the master.
Ship’s equipment: You may be offered the chance to use safety equipment supplied by the vessel. However, you should not do so unless you have been trained how to use it and are satisfied that it is in working order.Ship’s equipment: It should not be necessary to use equipment supplied by the master of the vessel. If needed, official equipment should always be used — with the appropriate training.
Cold stores: Cold stores may have self-locking mechanisms and may contain a special atmosphere to preserve the goods. They are often maintained at -25 °C or lower.Cold stores:
  • Always station someone outside the door to call for assistance if you get into difficulty.
  • Check that there is adequate oxygen and that there are no other hazardous gases in the store before you enter.
  • Wear insulation clothing to protect you from the cold.
  • Limit the amount of time you spend in the cold store to make sure your core body temperature does not drop too low.
Contact with oils and other spills: You might come across oil spills or leaking cargo. The oil or cargo could be hazardous, either by contact or by inhalation.Contact with oils and other spills: If you see a spillage or leak from a container, check to see if it has been identified. Unless it has been absolutely ruled safe by a competent person, withdraw immediately and notify the master. Avoid all contact with spills even if they are deemed safe, as you may suffer a skin reaction. Seek proper medical attention if any symptoms occur.
Remember: even chemicals that are safe on their own may react together (or with atmospheric water vapour) releasing toxic fumes or giving off sufficient heat to cause injury or start a fire.
Excessive noise: Many items of noisy machinery may be at work on a vessel even when it is berthed, including:
  • ventilation equipment;
  • generators;
  • winches;
  • cargo-moving machinery, including fork-lift trucks, cranes, conveyors or elevators.
Excessive noise: You should assess the risk and limit exposure or use ear-defenders. Prolonged exposure to even moderate noise levels can damage hearing.
Remember: excessive noise can hinder communication and reduce your awareness of other hazards.
Confined spaces: As mentioned earlier, confined spaces on board ships, including:
  • ballast tanks,
  • storage lockers,
  • cargo holds and tanks, and
  • engine and machinery rooms
can pose a wide range of hazards, including toxic fumes and substances.
Confined spaces: Never enter any confined spaces without the appropriate training and equipment. A risk assessment should always be carried out and permission sought from the master or the deck officer in charge before you enter any confined space.

The guidance contained in this section intended to serve as a general reminder of the risks that are sometimes encountered during the examination and sampling procedure and of the safety equipment that you should use and precautions that you should take.
You must refer to the legislation and the guidance of your national administration for more information.


What are safety measures to be taken when working on board ship? ›

Seek permission before entering. Wear appropriate safety clothing and a safety helmet. Take great care as the cargo may have shifted during the voyage, particularly if the sea has been rough. Remember: refer to your national legislation and guidance when working in this dangerous environment.

What is shipboard safety policies to ensure a safe working environment onboard the ship? ›

Safety instructions must be followed and the cargo must be labeled and segregated according to its nature. The containers must regularly be checked for any spills or leaks as they can prove to be hazardous. Goods on the ship, if not kept properly, are at a risk of moving and falling.

Why is it important to know about safety working practices onboard the vessel? ›

Proper housekeeping and safe ship working practices ensure a comfortable working environment and are critical for staying safe on the open water. Establishing and following a set of health and safety guidelines can keep ships functioning at an optimal level.

What does IMO Code of Safe Working Practice mean? ›

The code details the regulatory framework for health and safety aboard ship, safety management and statutory duties underlying to the advice in the code and the areas that should be covered when introducing a new recruit to safety procedures on board. The code arose from the Health and Safety at Work act (1974).

What is the safety code of a ship? ›

The International Management Code for the safe operation of ships is a management system implemented to ensure the safety of life and property at sea and marine environment protection from pollution.

What must be known by every seafarers in in order to create a safe working environment while at sea? ›

For implementing ISM code on ships, all the three – the shipping company, the governing authority, and the ship's crew together play an important role. Every seafarer should know the important aspects of the ISM code in order to create a safe working environment while at sea.

What are the 5 ways to maintain safety on board ships? ›

what are the five ways to maintain safety onboard?
  • Put on your personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Always check line pressures before you open any close space.
  • Vent any in close space before entering.
  • Read instructions very carefully before using any equipment onboard.

What code that requires instructions and procedures to ensure the safe operation of ships and protection of the environment? ›

A very important part of the SMS and really one of the issues at the heart of the ISM Code is communication between shorebased and shipboard personnel. The thinking is that in order to ensure the safe operation of a ship there has to be a well-defined link between the shipowner or operator and those on board.

What are the four basic ship work practices? ›

  • 1 Leave the area - upwind.
  • 2 Investigate the cause and assess the risk.
  • 3 Tell the emergency services.
  • 4 If you feel dizzy or smell fumes, GET OUT FAST.
  • 5 Do NOT rush in if persons collapses.
  • 6 Do NOT enter hold with leaker without permission.
  • 7 Do NOT take risks.

What are the most important part of shipboard safety program? ›

Ensuring Personal Safety on Ships

If we look at the most imperative measures; Wearing Protective Clothing; Wear comfortable and well-fitting clothing and appropriate shoes with non-slip soles on board. Appropriate gloves must be worn to protect the skin from heat and chemicals.

Are IMO codes mandatory? ›

Codes and guidelines can be either mandatory or recommendatory depending on how they are incorporated into a maritime convention.

What are codes of safe practices? ›

One tool that can help improve communication in your workplace is a code of safe practices–a set of rules that you establish for your employees. Implementing a code of safe practices (COSP) is a simple yet effective way to communicate to employees your expectations of how they are to carry out their work duties.

Who are responsible for the safety of everybody on board ship? ›

The Ship Safety Officer is appointed to look after the safety of the fellow crew on board and to promote a safety culture and preach safety awareness by means of training and motivation. If there is no safety culture and supervisor on board ship, it can be a dangerous situation for the ship's crew and the cargo.

What are the 7 basic safety rules? ›

Basic Safety Rules
  • Always wear your seatbelt when in a vehicle or heavy equipment. ...
  • Always inspect equipment and tools. ...
  • Always use fall protection when working at heights. ...
  • Stay of out the blind spots of heavy equipment. ...
  • Never put yourself in the line of fire. ...
  • Utilize proper housekeeping measures to keep work areas clean.
Nov 22, 2019

What are the 3 safety precautions? ›

Hand hygiene. Use of personal protective equipment (e.g., gloves, masks, eyewear). Respiratory hygiene / cough etiquette.

What is the first rule of safety? ›

Introduction. The safety-first rule is a principle of modern portfolio theory ( MPT), which believes the risk is an inherent part of reaping a higher reward level. Safety first, in this case, means reducing the probability of negative returns.

What is code 7 on a ship? ›

Code 7 is one of the few codes meant for crew and passengers. If you hear a Code 7, it means that everyone aboard the ship must report to their muster stations.

What are all the codes in ship? ›

The 26 English Alphabets were allocated a phonetic code as below : Alfa, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo, Foxtrot, Golf, Hotel, India, Juliett, Kilo, Lima, Mike, November, Oscar, Papa, Quebec, Romeo, Sierra, Tango, Uniform, Victor, Whiskey, X-ray, Yankee, Zulu..

What is code A on a ship? ›

Alpha, Alpha, Alpha is the code for a medical emergency aboard Royal Caribbean ships. Alpha Team, Alpha Team, Alpha Team is the code for a fire emergency aboard Carnival Cruise Line ships.

What is basic safety for seafarers? ›

Also known as “BT,” “SOLAS,” “BST,” or “Basic Safety,” Basic Training is a mandatory course designed to teach seafarers (1) personal survival techniques, (2) fire prevention and fire-fighting, (3) elementary first-aid, and (4) personal safety and social responsibilities in keeping with Section A-VI/1 of the Standards ...

What is safety for seafarers? ›

We are responsible for seafarer health and safety issues on prescribed vessels engaged in trade on international or interstate voyages. We inspect vessels, create domestic safety programs, and process complaints under the Maritime Labour Convention. Read Advice to the maritime industry—COVID-19.

What are the safety risk of a seafarer? ›

Rough weather, insufficient awareness of safety, lack of use of personal protective devices as well as inexperience are regarded as the main causes of fatal injuries related to work.

What are the 5 critical equipment on ship? ›

Some examples of safety-critical equipment onboard a vessel includes an emergency fire pump, emergency generator, emergency batteries, lifeboat engines, fixed fire fighting system, diesel generators, incinerators, and more.

What are 5 fire hazards on board ship? ›

Fire safety onboard ships – a continuous cause for concern
  • Fuel oil leaks, oil-soaked insulation/lagging, excessive amounts of oil in engine room bilges, quick-closing valves on fuel and lube oil tanks being disabled in the open position, etc. ...
  • Disconnected or inoperable fire detectors.
May 9, 2022

What are the 3 basic principles of ISM Code? ›

Three basic principles of the ISM code include the safety of - the people on board, the ship and cargo, and the environment.

What is ISO to the safe operations of ships? ›

The ISM Code focuses on the safe management and operation of ships and pollution prevention. The ISO 9001 series is designed to ensure that customer requirements for quality are met. ISO 14001 provides the elements of an effective environmental management system.

What are the 3 objectives of ISM Code? ›

1.2. 1 The objectives of the Code are to ensure safety at sea, prevention of human injury or loss of life, and avoidance of damage to the environment, in particular, to the marine environment, and to property.

What are the 3 main parts of a ship? ›

However, we can't imagine a ship without its three main parts: The Hull, an engine room and a navigation bridge. A ship comprises both visible as well as invisible parts.

What are the three main types of maintenance procedure onboard a ship? ›

How many types of vessel maintenance are there? There are three types of maintenance, which are preventive, predictive, and corrective.

What are common ship commands? ›

Summary of Key Commands: Standby – Get ready to execute an operation ▪ Made – Signals a completed operation ▪ Cast Off – Release dock lines to depart from dock ▪ Heading up/Bearing away – Helm raising or lowering boats direction to the wind.

What are the main hygiene practices that we have to follow on board vessel? ›

Hygiene is an important factor when working at sea
  • ensure maximum cleanliness of the body – wash it every day;
  • wash hands after completion of work, each use of toilet, before eating;
  • change dirty clothing;
  • wear protective face masks, whenever necessary;
Jan 29, 2020

What are the personal protective equipment used while working onboard the vessel? ›

What types of PPE are required?
Hand and foot protectionGloves, safety boots and shoes
Body protectionSafety suits, safety belts, harnesses, aprons, high-visibility clothing
Protection against drowningLifejackets, buoyancy aids and lifebuoys
Protection against hypothermiaImmersion suits and anti-exposure suits
4 more rows

What is the biggest danger on a ship? ›

Slips and Falls

Slips and falls are one of the most common accidents that occur on ship's deck. Slips can easily take place at any moment and likely during an activity on deck. Falls are most common while working on heights such as on masts, lashing bridges, hatch covers, cargo holds and working aloft or outboard.

What are the unsafe working practices onboard ship? ›

Unsafe working conditions may include inadequate medical supplies, poor health conditions in the galley, exhausted crewmembers, and lack of security. The difference between unsafe working conditions and unseaworthiness may matter when it comes to filing your maritime injury claim.

What is the IMO limit? ›

The upper limit of the sulphur content of ships' fuel oil was reduced to 0.5% (from 3.5% previously) - under the so-called "IMO 2020" regulation prescribed in the MARPOL Convention. This significantly reduces the amount of sulphur oxide emanating from ships.

What is a Code in SOLAS? ›

Compulsory Codes under the SOLAS Convention

International Code for Application of Fire Test Procedures (FTP Code) International Code for Fire Safety Systems (FSS Code) International Intact Stability Code (IS Code 2008) International Code Life-saving Appliance Code (LSA Code)

Can two ships have same IMO number? ›

The IMO number is permanent, meaning that it remains the same throughout the vessel's life cycle. From construction to scrapping, no matter the changes it may go through (ownership, country of registration, name, or flag), a ship keeps its initial IMO number. This identifier can never be reassigned to another unit.

What is OSHA code of Safe Practices? ›

Codes of Safe Practices are developed and written to provide the following in accordance with CAL-OSHA regulations: A list of potential physical and/or environmental hazards associated with a work activity or operation; and.

What is Item 3 code of good practice? ›

(3) The key principle in this Code is that employers and employees should treat one another with mutual respect. A premium is placed on both employment justice and the efficient operation of business.

How many Codes are in a safe? ›

Since there are 100,000 possible combination, discovering one of the digits, but not it's position, has cut your work in half. But I hope you're ready for a long night, or have more ways to cut down on the number of combinations you may have to check.

What are the four 4 departments onboard? ›

Each of these roles carries unique responsibilities that are integral to the successful operation of a seafaring vessel. A ship's crew can generally be divided into four main categories: the deck department, the engineering department, the steward's department, and other.

What is the rank of seaman? ›

Seaman is the third enlisted rank from the bottom in the U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard, ranking above seaman apprentice and below petty officer third class. This naval rank was formerly called seaman first class, such as Medal of Honor recipient James R. Ward.

Who is responsible for working in the deck on the ship? ›

Deck officers maintain watches on the bridge at sea and about the ship in port. They are responsible for passage planning, safe navigation of the vessel, cargo loading and discharge, ship stability, communications and maintenance of the hull and deck equipment.

What hazard is the most common onboard a ship? ›

Slips and Falls

Slips and falls are one of the most common accidents that occur on ship's deck. Slips can easily take place at any moment and likely during an activity on deck. Falls are most common while working on heights such as on masts, lashing bridges, hatch covers, cargo holds and working aloft or outboard.

What are the hazards of workplace on ship? ›

Here are some of the problems for ship workers that make this job a really hard one:
  • Working Conditions. Ship yards are not one of the most comfortable places to work in. ...
  • Timings. ...
  • Machinery Hazard. ...
  • Slips and falls. ...
  • Fires and explosions. ...
  • Cramped spaces and high pressure. ...
  • Asbestosis and mesothelioma. ...
  • Improper knowledge.
Aug 9, 2019

What are unsafe conditions on ships? ›

Unsafe Condition is operating a vessel in a condition that causes a hazard to the occupants or others on the waterways. Law enforcement officers may instruct the operator to immediately return to the nearest dock or safe anchorage, and the operator may not continue operating until the condition is corrected.

What is hazard zone on ship? ›

Area in which an explosive gas atmosphere is present continuously or for long periods or frequently. Ex: The interiors of cargo tanks, slop tanks, any pipework of pressure-relief or other venting systems for cargo and slop tanks, pipes and equipment containing the cargo or developing flammable gases or vapors.

What are the most common causes of onboard accidents? ›

Primary Causes of Maritime Accidents
  • Long Hours, Lack of sleep leading to Fatigue.
  • Inexperience, and lack of training.
  • Long voyages, extended time at sea.
  • Personal relationships aboard the vessel.
  • Reckless Behavior, including abuse of drugs and alcohol.
  • Poor decision making and/or negligence.

What are the five 5 basic safety training? ›

Basic Safety Training (SOLAS) - Personal survival techniques, fire prevention and fire fighting, elementary first aid, personal safety and social responsibilities.

What is code A in ship shore safety checklist? ›

Code A stands for "Agreement". For the checkpoints with Code A, it is not sufficient to just sign or tick the point. We need to have a written agreement for this point. For this point, it is not sufficient to write "yes".

What are the 5 traits that seafarers must possess? ›

So, what are these necessary personality traits that every seafarer should have? Strong work ethic, tenacity, punctuality, courage and diligence, are all skills highly appreciated in many industries, however in maritime these are virtual necessities.

What are the 6 common types of safety hazard in the workplace? ›

Workplace hazards fall into six core types – safety, biological, physical, ergonomic, chemical and workload.

What are four 4 workplace hazards? ›

4 Types of Workplace Hazards
  • Physical Hazards. Physical hazards are the most common type of workplace hazards. ...
  • Biological Hazards. ...
  • Ergonomic Hazards. ...
  • Chemical Hazards.
Jan 22, 2018

What are 5 example of workplace hazard? ›

In many types of workplaces they can include spills on floors, walkways blocked by cords or boxes, falls from heights, machinery with moving parts, confined spaces and electrical hazards such as frayed cords.


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