Personal Safety on Board Ship Series: Getting to Grips with the Essentials

May 8, 2019 11:27 am

Thankfully serious accidents on board ship are still relatively rare, that does not mean seafarers can ignore the fact that ships can dangerous places. In this updated series, seafarers are introduced to the most common hazards in their workplace and made aware of their responsibility to look after their own safety and the safety of others.


Part one in the series concentrates on the basic knowledge all seafarers need to avoid accidents and injury on board. We take a closer look at the ways in which mistakes can be avoided and the simple things can be done well.

We delve into issues around awareness, understanding what the rules and procedures say, as well we basics such as dealing with fire and emergencies onboard. While also introducing a vital component of safety, that of responsibility.

Effective safety training is an ongoing process and a reminder of the basics. Get that foundation right and every other step will be a safer one. Seafarers can all too often be overloaded with information and demands, so having the right mindset is vital.

Ensuring that personal safety is the first step of building real, functioning safety culture means that crew will remember what’s most important and will appreciate the fundamentals of what is needed.


While it is perhaps easy to talk about what a safety culture is, it is somewhat harder to develop one. It is about the values a company outwardly projects, almost as much as about the way things are done. It is the notion that a company wants the right things done in the right way.

A company which sees that short cuts are ok will not build a safety culture. One which develops systems so complicated that seafarers feel forced to work around them, rather than through them. This is about not just the ways of doing things onboard, but of the thinking behind them.

This is the way on which risks are identified, recognised, mitigated and managed. This is about people working together and within a safety management system which reflects the importance of safety. Also, the importance of supporting seafarers to do things right.

A true safety culture cannot be dictated; it is built but then put to the test each day through words and actions. A shelf in an office can have hundreds of neat looking folders within it, there can be reams and reams of checklists, and of procedures. However, it is the thinking behind each, which, shapes whether they make seafarers genuinely safer, or whether safety becomes just a paperwork exercise.


The first in the KVH Videotel Personal Safety on Board Ship series features the key building blocks for keeping seafarers safe. Here are the top tips for boosting safety on board:

  1. Basic hazard awareness: A vital component of safety is being aware of what the risks posed to you and others are. Ships are dangerous places, and even the most innocuous areas can be hazardous. The most basic building blocks of personal safety on board ships is to be able to recognise what is wrong, and how and why. By giving seafarers even the most basic appreciation of hazards then allows them to appreciate the actions they need to take to protect themselves, and to safeguard others.


  1. Emergency response: When the worst does happen at sea, then it is necessary to instigate an emergency response. While there will of course be specific differences on each vessel, the basics remain. So, the training focuses on the calm, correct and considered application of responding in an emergency. Of how to muster and how to find out where, of what actions are to be taken and the importance of each person in the shipboard emergency response.


  1. Rules and procedures: Ships are strictly governed, and there are many rules in place. In addition, each ship and shipping company has its own set of procedures laid down within its SMS. Key to applying these is understanding what they are and of the impact on safety. So, seafarers are guided through the basics and gain understanding and appreciation of what is expected, why and of where they can find out.


  1. Fire prevention and emergency equipment: Fire is a constant risk at sea, and all crew onboard have a massive role to play in helping to safeguard against it. There are many basic steps to preventing fires, and these need to be followed by all seafarers all the time. When there are problems, then crews also need to know what emergency equipment is onboard, and of what they are meant to do with it, and how they use it.


  1. Enclosed/Confined spaces: Far too many seafarers are killed or seriously injured on ships each year in confined spaces. Even more tragically many of these are would-be-rescuers who have gone in to rescue someone who has collapsed inside. It is vital that all seafarers are able to recognise places where they could be in danger, and that they also know under what circumstances they are allowed to enter, what permits are necessary, and what tests and equipment may be needed. This is a key part of managing safety on board and is vital knowledge for all seafarers.


  1. Watertight doors: While watertight doors are crucial to reducing the risks to vessels of flooding, their operation may involve risk to human life, so this is another vital basic that seafarers need to understand. Watertight doors have their own characteristics depending on specific vessels and manufacturers, but there are basics such as local or remote control and loss of power to be understood, while the act of passing through moving doors can be potentially lethal.


  1. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) protects the user 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.


  1. Preventing slips, trips and falls: In a dangerous environment, such as a ship, it is still the small accidents which add up to problems for crew. Slips, trips and falls, commonly cause injury on board, but 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.


  1. Manual handling: Manual handling is the transporting or supporting of a load (including the lifting, putting down, pushing, pulling, carrying or moving thereof) by hand or bodily force, and is often a problem for seafarers. There are many loads to be lifted and shifted around ship, and there is a natural “can do” attitude at sea. Unfortunately, this can result in injury, with back pain one of the more common side effects. Seafarers need to be able to identify manual handling operations and the hazards, to be able to identify alternatives and the best ways to reduce risk of injury, including proper lifting techniques.


  1. Personal responsibility: Despite the rules, the procedures, the best and good practices, and even with PPE correctly worn, safety does come down to good decision making. Seafarers must be able to recognise their role in making the right choices when it comes to their safety and of those around them. People who can spot problems, who know how to deal with them and who can do the right things will be safer, and training is vital to allow crews to grasp their own personal responsibility for safety.



To find out more about this course see Personal Safety Onboard Ship Series: The Essentials. We would also love to hear what you think is the foundation of safety at sea and for seafarers? Share your thoughts with us.