Personal Safety on Board Ship Series: Deck and Cargo Operations

May 28, 2019 1:09 pm

The Personal Safety on Board Ship series highlights the most common hazards seafarers may encounter. In part 3 we look at how working on deck and with cargo can be dangerous, and the ways seafarers need to react, and their roles and responsibilities for safety.


Bad weather and personal fatigue are just two examples of where working on deck can be dangerous. Whether seafarers are carrying out maintenance activities or handling cargo, they need to be aware of the risks to their safety.

There are many other potential issues when it comes to deck work, and in this course, seafarers are taken step by step through the rules and also taught about the importance of correct procedures.

With so many potential dangers to consider, the course focuses on means of mitigating the risks, but also raising awareness of many of the most serious hazards which exist out on deck.

Here we look at the top areas and issues of concern for seafarers working out on deck, or handling cargo. There are many injuries, incidents, accidents and even deaths in this part of the ship, and in cargo work – so the stakes are high. Get it right or run the risk of terrible things happening.


Securing cargo – Seafarers sometimes have responsibility for securing cargo, and when this happens, it is vital that the risks are clearly understood, the correct procedures followed, and all safety steps taken, and equipment used. Whatever the cargo it will have its own unique set of risks and hazards associated, and so seafarers need to be aware of these and respond accordingly.

Preventing slips, trip and falls – Ships are potentially dangerous environments, and slips, trips and falls commonly cause injury on board. It should also be remembered they can also turn far more serious if they lead to a fall from height. Seafarers need to be aware of the basics, and also able to spot the warning signs of areas which are likely to trip others up, for them to slip or fall. So, training to spot hazards and the means of dealing with them is an important part of the way to minimise such accidents or incidents. Working on deck, or cargo handling will bring its own unique challenges, and seafarers need to be aware of the risks. The course covers issues such as wet decks, ladders, carrying equipment and a host of other challenges.

Use of pedestrian routes – Knowing where to walk on deck and when is a key concern for safety. The marking use and making safe of pedestrian routes on deck is an important part of keeping seafarers clear of hazards when moving around the vessel. We look at best practice, and how markings and routes are used to protect safety. However, it should be also remembered that having such markings does not necessarily remove hazards, and seafarers need to remain aware of dangers as they walk. All deck surfaces used for transit about the ship and all passageways, walkways and stairs should be properly maintained and kept free from substances liable to cause a person to slip or fall. They should also be properly illuminated too.

Working at height – Anyone working in a location where there is a risk of falling may be regarded as working at height. Such activities are inherently hazardous, and crew may be exposed to injury and possible death. It is therefore vital that seafarers recognise the hazards and to assess the associated risk. Where problems occur, there are often failures to provide safe systems of work, or the correct equipment. While there are failures in risk assessment or of a lack of information, instruction, training or supervision. A fall can be fatal, and seafarers need to be mindful of that whenever working at height.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) – this is vital and the absolute minimum equipment seafarers are issued with and should use. The PPE issued when working outside may differ, and seafarers will also have to consider weather conditions and exposure to the elements. PPE protects against health or safety risks, and includes items such as safety helmets, gloves, eye protection, hazmat suits, high-visibility clothing, safety footwear, harnesses, ear plugs or defenders and respiratory protective equipment (RPE). PPE is to be worn where hazards cannot be totally removed or controlled, so any potential impacts must be mitigated. PPE must be correctly fitted, maintained and properly used. All too often there can be a temptation for seafarers not to wear their PPE. Issues such as fit, whether it is uncomfortable, too hot, or simply not accessible are not valid, and safety training about the importance of PPE, how and why it should be worn is vital.

Hatch covers and moving machinery – the operation of hatch covers, and access lids comes with dangers and risks attached. All personnel involved with the handling and/or operation of hatch covers should be properly instructed in their handling and operation. While all stages of opening or closing hatches should be supervised by a responsible person. This is heavy, moving machinery and the risks of crushing, or loss of limbs is a real danger – so seafarers need to be aware and know how to operate them and be around them safely. It should also be remembered that an open hatchway or dangerous edge into, through or over which a person may fall should be fitted with secure guards or fencing of adequate design and construction.

Overhead cranes – With cargoes moving overhead, there are real dangers posed to the crew below. There is also a vital role in communication between deck and crane operator. The training course focuses on the need to manage the risks, and of the awareness, considerations and understanding that those working around raised loads need to have. It is vital that seafarers know to ensure they do not stand below suspended loads and are aware of what is moving around them.

Enclosed spaces – There are far too many deaths and injuries at sea owing to incorrect enclosed and confined space entry. It is vital that seafarers are trained and made aware of the dangers. This training includes details of the practical, operational steps, such as regular and also awareness of the safety equipment available and which should be used. It is vital that seafarers perceive and react to confined space risks in ways which can protect them and their shipmates.

To find out more about this course see Personal Safety on Board Ship Series: Deck and Cargo Operations. We would also love to hear what you think is the foundation of safety at sea, especially on deck or when working with cargo. Share your thoughts with us.