Home > Professions > Health and Safety on Board a Commercial Ship

Health and Safety on Board a Commercial Ship

By: Kevin Watson MSc - Updated: 20 Aug 2012 | comments*Discuss
Commercial Ships Health And Safety

Whether it carries passengers, goods or both, a commercial ship has all manner of health and safety issues. Once at sea, a ship is a self-contained environment. It has basic hazards such as Slips, Trips and Falls, and complex dangers posed by fuel, electricity and combustible materials.

Dangerous Goods

Commercial ships carry all sorts of goods, some of which are dangerous and pose health and safety risks.

The International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) code covers these. The code has guidance for the safe transportation of dangerous goods at sea.

In the UK, the code has the force of law thanks to the Merchant Shipping (Dangerous Goods and Marine Pollutant) Regulations 1990. Containers with dangerous goods must display orange labels with IMDG coding.


The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) is the UK’s authority on all matters related to carrying dangerous goods at sea. The MCA also has a wider remit to continuously improve safety at sea.

In this role, the MCA issues regular health and safety alerts. It bases the alerts on actual incidents at sea. These include falls, galley burns, high-speed loading dangers and fatal accidents.

The MCA also incorporates health and safety in training courses for commercial seafarers. These courses have international approval.


The HSE (Health and Safety Executive) has complementary training courses. Ship owners are not exempt from the general HSE requirement to ensure staff have training in First Aid, Fire Prevention and Manual Handling.

These three areas of health and safety can cover a lot of ground. But as the HSE and MCA make clear, there are particular hazards that a ship’s crew faces at sea.


Electricity and water, for example, don’t mix. And yet a commercial ship must have an electrical system so that it can function.

A recent incident highlights the dangers. While washing down the galley, a cook saw electrical wires resting on the deck. The ends of the wires had tape over them so the cook assumed they weren’t live. He picked them up so he could wash the deck beneath them and received an electric shock.

A contractor had left the wires when removing a piece of machinery. The contractor had isolated the electricity supply but someone switched it back on once the ship was at sea. Fortunately, the cook survived the experience.


Commercial ships sail round the clock. A member of the crew must be on the bridge at all times, maintaining a watch. In one incident, the chief officer was on the midnight to 6 a.m. watch but he fell asleep. He woke up when the ship ran aground on the Scottish coast.

Problems with tiredness or absence on the bridge cause an average of six groundings a year in UK waters.


The engines on commercial ships can be huge and complex. They can also become dirty. A seaman who was concerned about a messy engine cleaned it while it was running. He severely damaged his hand on the teeth of the flywheel.

Long List

These examples are just three from a long list. Health and safety on commercial ships is important for individuals, for the transportation of goods, and for the avoidance of major accidents. The HSE and MCA provide support and advice to help prevent any such incidents from happening.

You might also like...
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
Why not be the first to leave a comment for discussion, ask for advice or share your story...

If you'd like to ask a question one of our experts (workload permitting) or a helpful reader hopfully can help you... We also love comments and interesting stories

(never shown)
(never shown)
(never shown)
(never shown)
Enter word:
Latest Comments
  • Original C
    Re: When Your Employer Changes Your Working Hours
    I've worked days for several years and have now been put on nights without any consultation or notice. I…
    28 March 2017
  • SafeWorkers
    Re: Cancer: Your Rights as an Employee
    No-name - Your Question:I don't know if this can happen. My mum is about to start for radiotherapy she now is clear from…
    28 March 2017
  • Hotcold
    Re: Food Safety and the Law
    Hi, I need some advice. My kids keep finding hair on their school meals, served green and pink chicken, when they complain to the school…
    28 March 2017
  • Babs
    Re: Employment Tribunals
    Hi I need a little advice my company has made changes to our working week there are 4people working for a cleaning company on site I am the…
    28 March 2017
  • SafeWorkers
    Re: Employer Has Changed My Shifts: What Are My Rights?
    jeff - Your Question:Ive been working Monday till Thursday for the past 10 years now employer wants…
    28 March 2017
  • SafeWorkers
    Re: Understanding Your Employment Contract
    Barbara - Your Question:I have worked for my employer for 2 years, 18 hours per week. Last month I was off sick for a…
    28 March 2017
  • SafeWorkers
    Re: Probationary Period
    Conor - Your Question:I passed my 3 month probationary period, got welcomed into the company and then less than a month later was let go due…
    28 March 2017
  • SafeWorkers
    Re: Employer's Duty of Care
    Sara7105 - Your Question:I started work in a care home through a agency 6 months ago.but now work for the home since Feb 20th. I'm…
    28 March 2017
  • SafeWorkers
    Re: Employer Has Changed My Shifts: What Are My Rights?
    Suzieq - Your Question:My father-in-law is 70 years old and has been working for the same company…
    28 March 2017
  • SafeWorkers
    Re: Working At Night
    Chezza - Your Question:Hi can anyone help I worked a 12 hour night shift last Tuesday which is none sleeping without a rest period in a care…
    28 March 2017
Further Reading...
Our Most Popular...
Add to my Yahoo!
Add to Google
Stumble this
Add to Twitter
Add To Facebook
RSS feed
You should seek independent professional advice before acting upon any information on the SafeWorkers website. Please read our Disclaimer.