Essential Housekeeping Considerations for Sea Vessels

Essential Housekeeping Considerations for Sea Vessels

When people think of the risks in commercial shipping, most will voice concerns about vessel collisions, lost cargo, or expensive delays in reaching destination ports. Working conditions aboard ships are not often considered as a significant risk exposure. The truth, however, is that working conditions – particularly poor conditions – can have long-ranging negative impacts on crewmember safety. While commercial marine insurance protects against many risks, good housekeeping practices aboard sea vessels can provide a powerful risk management tool. By maintaining orderly vessels with housekeeping, crewmembers have better working conditions and improved safety.

Shipboard Life: Health and Safety Factors

Life aboard commercial sea vessels is already well established as a risky work environment. According to statistics compiled by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), ship workers were injured or killed at a rate six times that of all other U.S. workers. Most of these injuries occur as a direct result of work area hazards, including:

  • Crushing injuries
  • Equipment failures
  • Slippery or unstable deck surfaces
  • Environmental exposure
  • Burns
  • Chemical inhalation/chemical exposure

Less familiar to most, but still common in terms of injury/illness rate, are the factors that can cause rapid spread of illnesses aboard commercial vessels. Workers aboard ships are often confined to restricted working, living, and sleeping spaces. In addition, shared common areas such as galleys or mess areas, shipboard gyms, shower facilities, and office spaces put workers in close proximity with one another. If a worker were to become infected with a transmissible virus, the infection can spread to others in the vicinity. In addition to the protection afforded by commercial marine insurance, good housekeeping practices are critical in preventing illnesses from sidelining crewmembers.

Establishing Shipboard Safety Practices

A committee comprised of multiple nations established what is known as the International Safety Management (ISM) Code in the 1980s. These guidelines and procedures are administered by the International Maritime Organization (IMO); their goal was to provide safe workplaces for maritime workers.

Ship safety begins with management. Creating and adhering to a safety policy is the foundational element of establishing a safety-oriented culture aboard ships. This policy must include procedures for handling injuries, mitigating hazards, and reporting injuries or illnesses. Good housekeeping practices related to safety considerations include:

  • Preventing fires in engine rooms, chemical storage lockers, and from flammable sources.
  • Regular inspection and maintenance of shipboard equipment and machinery to spot problems before they can cause worker injuries.
  • Having access to and mandating the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) for certain shipboard activities such as cargo handling, confined space work, or above decks work in severe weather conditions.
  • Routine inspections of deck surfaces, safety railings and netting, emergency alert systems, and rescue equipment to ensure they are free of hazards and ready to be pressed into service as needed.

Once shipboard safety has been addressed through the use of policy development and employee training, conditions belowdecks also warrant good housekeeping practices. Because of close working and living conditions and small common areas, hygiene is crucial in preventing illness. Ship managers must establish routine cleaning and disinfection schedules, paying particular attention to shared equipment like:

  • Door handles/knobs.
  • Food preparation and serving areas.
  • Frequently-handled or shared equipment.
  • Portable radios.
  • Navigation and steering controls.

During cleaning, crewmembers should inspect for signs of rodent or insect infestations. These infestations can spread disease organisms as well as damage sensitive electrical equipment.

Food preparation is a daily procedure aboard oceangoing vessels. In addition to keeping galley and mess areas clean, certain guidelines must be implemented in order to stop the spread of foodborne illnesses. Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) is an established system that shipping companies can use to prevent illness. HACCP consists of guidelines for food preparation, food storage, elimination of waste and contamination, and many other aspects that can influence the safety and wellbeing of crewmembers.

Finally, crewmembers aboard sea vessels must keep their living quarters clean and free of hazards. Good housekeeping for living areas includes:

  • Forbidding smoking in crew living/sleeping areas to reduce fire hazards.
  • Providing sealed containers for refuse.
  • Laundering clothing and bedding regularly.
  • Storing equipment in designated areas to reduce tripping hazards.
  • Discouraging the consumption of foods in living quarters.
  • Providing access to cleaning solutions and products.

With commercial marine insurance and good housekeeping practices, shipping companies can improve the safety and wellbeing of their crews. Keeping ships clean and organized is a vital risk management approach, reducing the chance of injury or illness and keeping employee-based insurance claims to a minimum.

About Merrimac Marine Insurance

At Merrimac Marine, we are dedicated to providing insurance for the marine industry to protect your clients’ business and assets. For more information about our products and programs, contact our specialists today at (800) 681-1998.