Personal Safety on Board Ship Series: The Engine Room

May 31, 2019 11:42 am

The Personal Safety on Board Ship series highlights the most common hazards seafarers may encounter. In part 4 we look at the basic dangers and hazards associated with the engine room or machinery space, and the ways seafarers need to react, and their roles and responsibilities for safety.


The engine room is the powerhouse of every ship. It is also a hot and noisy environment in which care must be taken to avoid accident and injury. There are the usual health and safety basics to consider, but the engine room is a complex and challenging environment, so there is much more to consider.

This course reminds seafarers of the areas of cross over safety, those must do issues which are the same all over the ship. Such as emergency procedures, use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), as well as housekeeping, managing slips, trips and falls, avoiding fires, safety with electricity and the added issues of heat and noise.

The importance of protecting hearing, of appropriately covering the body, protecting hands, feet, head and eyes. There is much to be considered, and seafarers are reminded of the need to safeguard their own safety and those around them. While issues such as confined spaces, risks from crushing and steam leaks are real and present dangers to seafarers.

The machinery space combines many of the dangers from other areas of the vessel into one place, and occasionally there can be a sense of complacency from those work often in them. While it can be a whole new and dangerous environment for those who only rarely find themselves in the engine room.


Seafarers must be properly trained and equipped to comply with relevant standards. So, the course continues to cover other key risks in the engine room, and stresses the message that there are many risks, hazard, threats and dangers in this very unique working environment.

According to P&I Clubs, there are a number of common safety when it comes to the engine room. Here are our top ten maritime safety concerns for the machinery space.

1. Garbage – There can be a lot of waste produced in an engine room, and all too often there is a garbage can overflowing with oily rags, and these can find themselves near a hot running engine. Oily rags are a well-known fire hazard whereby the substances on the rags can ignite due to an exothermic reaction from the nearby hot engine, causing a fire. So housekeeping is of the utmost importance.

2. Working at height – Often engineers may not think of themselves as working at height, but a machinery space can be a significant height, and so any missing or damaged sections of handrail, or chains left hanging can be extremely dangerous. Such thoughtless, simple and careless acts as leaving the chain unhooked is a fall hazard for anyone passing.

3. Safe Working Loads – There can be many heavy lifts in the engine room, large pieces of equipment or spares being moved into position or taken out of the machinery space. It can be all too common for loads on chain blocks to exceed the safe working load, which may result in the catastrophic failure of the equipment and injury to the crew.

4. Bilge and Tank Alarms – When bad things happen in the engine room there can be little time to act, so alarms are hugely important. Unfortunately, especially on older vessels, there can often be instances when alarms have been blocked, or lights with bulbs removed. There can be an assumption that all is well. However, alarms are there for a reason and need to be activated and working.

5. Insulation – There are many extremely hot pieces of equipment and piping in the engine room, and insulation is a vital component of safety. It can protect people from coming into contact with hot spots, and it can also reduce the dangers of ignition where other pieces of equipment or items may come into contact.

6. Wiring and electricity – The dangers of high voltage are clearly marked around an engine room, but that does not always mean that the right actions are taken. Inspectors often report fuse boxes being left open with exposed wires. There is a real danger of electrocution if wires are left exposed, so these need to be insulated and where necessary electrical switchboards should always be properly closed, and insulation matting provided and in place.

7. Deck plates – In a distracting place, perhaps with some degree of slipperiness underfoot, and especially if a vessel is moving, then keeping footing can be a challenge. This is more so if there are any loose or missing floor plates. It is vital that anywhere people are meant to tread is safe and secure. Any missing, damaged or loose floor plating may result in a crew member falling into the bilge spaces below the plating, causing serious injury.

8. Lighting – It is vital that engineers, and especially visitors to the machinery space are able to see where they are going or working. Lighting is hugely important, and it needs to be sufficiently bright, but without causing areas of excessive shadow in which dangers can lurk. Where lighting is improper, ill positioned or damaged, then this reduces the ability of the crew to work effectively and safely in the engine room.

9. Blocked escape routes – Incredibly surveyors and inspectors often report that escape routes are found to be impeded, or escape trunks not illuminated, which will obviously hinder safe evacuation in an emergency.

10. Doors Open – While there are often escape routes blocked off, locked or closed. Conversely, and just as dangerously, there are often reports of fire doors being tied, or even wedged open. While the most ironic use of fire extinguishers is to have them used to stop fire doors from shutting.

To find out more about this course see Personal Safety on Board Ship Series: The Engine Room (Edition 2). We would also love to hear what you think is the foundation of safety at sea, especially when working in machinery spaces. Share your thoughts with us.