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 hopefully can help you... We also love comments and interesting stories

(never shown)
(never shown)
(never shown)
(never shown)
Enter word:
Latest Comments
  • abdi
    Re: Violence at Work
    a colleague had threaten to kill me, once i informed it to the Managing Director he said just drop it, ill have a chat with him. what should i do?
    21 November 2019
  • Morrigan
    Re: Safe Working Temperatures
    I work in a kitchen and in summer we were reaching temperatures of 39-40°c away from the equipment. Now it's winter we are.currently…
    21 November 2019
  • Vera
    Re: Where do I Stand in regards to Workplace Law?
    Good afternoon, I leave on the state of CT . I’m a food worker at school district. This morning I got at…
    20 November 2019
  • Anon
    Re: Bullying at Work
    I suffered violent bullying and was forced out of long term career at HMRC Revenue & Customs aka HMRC. I learned through that process that they…
    20 November 2019
  • Liz
    Re: When Your Employer Changes Your Working Hours
    I've worked night shift at my company for best part of 10 years, I've worked days when they have requested…
    19 November 2019
  • Boaner
    Re: Can my Employer Fire Me?
    I have a coffee tract that says I would to night shift as and when required. It actually works that I am in 2 weeks day shift and two…
    19 November 2019
  • Stuart Gallagher
    Re: Food Safety and the Law
    I only eat haggis and drink IRNBRU i dont really eat KFC so i wouldnt know. IRNBRU and haggis is the best diet to have. Andy Murry is my…
    19 November 2019
  • Patti
    Re: Sickness: Your Rights
    I had knee surgery and have been off for11 weeks. My Dr told me I could go back with restrictions. Can I be fired or demoted because of this?
    18 November 2019
  • Buzzy Bee !
    Re: Employer Has Changed My Shifts: What Are My Rights?
    After 25 years my employer wants every day and afternoon shift worker to work some nights. I do not…
    17 November 2019
  • Jay
    Re: Sickness: Your Rights
    I have been with my company for 2 years me and my partner was expecting our 1st child but 11 days to when our baby was due she sadly passed…
    17 November 2019