Docks and ports can be very hazardous to employees. Workers are seriously injured or even die because of falls from various heights, being crushed by equipment, or being struck by a vehicle or an object. Most of the non-fatal accidents, but still resulting in injuries, may be caused by slipping on wet or greasy surfaces, tripping and falling, or mishandling of equipment. A dock is a highly complex and constantly moving area with people, cargo, and equipment. Various groups of people who do not know each other interact. There may be multiple languages spoken, causing serious communications problems. The skill levels of the individuals vary enormously from unskilled and possibly very low educational levels, to highly skilled. Inattention, a negative attitude toward safety rules, the effect of heat or cold, or fatigue can also contribute to the substantial potential level of injuries which may occur.

The crew of the ship is involved in innumerable occupational risks since a ship has all the complexities faced by a small town but confined to a single structure which is constantly in motion and subjected to different weather conditions. The crew performs electrical work, plumbing work, maintenance and operation of equipment, painting and rehabilitation of areas, food service, provision of water, provision of facilities, and storage, treatment, and disposal of graywater, sewage, oily bilge water, hazardous materials, solid waste, etc. The employees work at heights which could cause serious falls and even death, and during very severe weather they may be on the decks and can fall overboard. They operate very complex equipment many times in limited areas of space. They are subjected to a large number of chemical hazards which may include PCBs, toxic paint, heavy metals, and volatile organic compounds from solvents and solvent-based paints, etc. Hydrogen sulfide is a special risk in confined areas such as engine rooms.

The crew members are also subjected to outbreaks of disease acquired from passengers and other crew members. They are responsible for cleaning up after sick people who have diarrhea and vomiting. These individuals work long hours, typically 7 days a week, while the ship is sailing or in port. Some of the crew members’ work is in confined areas which may be very hot. All of these situations may lead over time to physical problems, mental and psychological problems, and extreme fatigue. Any of these conditions can lower the immunity of the individuals to outbreaks of disease or reduce the individual’s ability to function properly, resulting in severe injury.

Worker fatigue has enormous consequences. It is driven by the need to stay competitive in the cruise line business. This reduces the number of workers and increases what they have to do. It is also driven by the 24/7 cycle where crew members have to perform a certain set of duties in order to keep the ship operating properly. If there is an outbreak of disease aboard the ship and crew members are affected, it may mean more work for those who are healthy. Fatigue may lead to heart disease, high blood pressure, inattention, suicide, and major problems involving the ship and the protection of the passengers.

Best Practices in Protecting Workers at Ports and Onboard Ships (See endnote 41)

  • • All work at ports must be planned, organized, and closely supervised by highly competent people who have the communication skills to deal with individuals who speak different languages and are part of the workgroup.
  • • The supervisors and administrators must interact with other groups of individuals at the port in a comprehensively planned manner with one highly competent, high-ranking individual totally responsible for all port activities concerning the health and safety issues of the workers. This individual makes the final decision in adjudicating situations that can cause health and safety risks.
  • • Special highly trained individuals should be responsible for carrying out written risk assessments including what to do to eliminate or reduce any risks that are found in different operations and in the interactions between various groups as well as passengers embarking or debarking at the dock.
  • • All health and safety regulations must be posted clearly and in all appropriate languages, at various points on the dock so that individuals have immediate and quick access to them.
  • • All individuals working on the dock must be thoroughly trained to carry out their duties safely and then closely supervised.
  • • All passengers must be kept in safe areas until allowed to board the ship. Boarding and disembarkation should be kept away from all work areas, obstructions, or where cargo or suspended loads are traversing. The area should be extremely well lit and checked for hazards before the individuals are allowed to enter or exit the ship.
  • • Because of the potential hazards of using the gangway, extra care and sufficient time should be allowed to complete this action, not only for workers but also especially for passengers including those who have disabilities.
  • • Emergency plans should be in effect, frequently tested, and administered by one high- ranking individual in the event of imminent danger due to flooding, high winds, fires, explosions, leaking containers, fractured pipes, or acts of terrorism. Emergency crews should be highly trained and respond immediately to any imminent dangers. Passengers and workers should be immediately moved to places of safety.
  • • Based on the types of incidents that have been documented on various cruise ships, it is important to provide proper equipment, training, preventative maintenance of equipment, and detailed procedures on what to do if an incident occurs, in order to mitigate or prevent injury from occurring.
  • • Provide alarms and remote sensors in the event a person falls overboard.
  • • Provide drills for the crew and passengers for a potential series of incidents including fire, extremely rough seas, and catastrophic events.
  • • In the event of a maritime disaster, determine the resources that are available immediately to the cruise ship and communicate with them with special equipment if the normal communications system has been disrupted.
  • • Cruise ships have a rapid turnaround time in ports and unnecessary risks may be taken to meet schedules. These actions should be analyzed carefully by using risk analysis techniques and appropriate solutions should be anticipated before problems occur. The entire operation should be closely monitored and supervised by highly competent people.
  • • On board the ship it is recommended that an individual trained academically with occupational health and safety certification, 5 years of practical experience in occupational/ environmental health and safety, knowledge of ergonomics, government regulations, and effective principles of business and management, including cost analysis, be in charge of the occupational health and safety program. This individual will evaluate all problems, incidents, and injuries and will establish appropriate actions to eliminate or minimize these incidents from reoccurring. The individual will also evaluate all data concerning health and safety problems, establish programs including training of crew, and provide draft reports to management and the appropriate health and safety authorities.
  • • Before performing any work on the ship, thoroughly investigate the area to make sure there are no hidden hazards behind molding or other cosmetic features.
  • • Maintain all steps properly and on a routine basis aboard ship to avoid slips and falls especially when the ship lurches.
  • • When conditions change aboard the ship because of the weather or rough seas, re-evaluate all potential hotspots for injuries to the passengers or crew and make necessary changes in procedures.
  • • Routinely check all non-slip surfaces aboard the ship to make sure that they are still performing as needed.
  • • Ensure that all crew members wear shoes at all times which have slip resistant soles.
  • • Establish a regular inspection and maintenance program for all deck areas, railings, catwalks, and other walking areas. Immediately remove all grease and other substances which can cause falls, as well as repair areas that have been weakened or cracked. Remove all tripping and falling hazards.
  • • When crew members have to work in confined areas, provide appropriate respiratory protection equipment and use the buddy system. This work should be closely monitored by well-trained supervisors and the time allowed in confined areas should be limited. Do not use highly combustible materials in confined areas.
  • • Implement a total no smoking policy aboard the ship for crew members and passengers.
  • • Test for the buildup of static electricity before working within a given area.
  • • Follow all environmental health and safety guidelines as established by the International Labor Organization for all ship maintenance activities.
  • • Follow the OSHA standard “Permit-Required Confined Spaces.” Use a special compact portable multigas monitor to detect levels of oxygen, combustibles, hydrogen sulfide, and carbon monoxide.
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