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Dangers at sea: what are the most common on-the-job hazards for seamen?


Working at sea is hazardous. Of course, the most life-threatening hazard to seamen is shipwreck or sinking, but fortunately, big accidents like Deepwater are rare.  Still every day, there are endless ways that a seaman can be injured. We have listed some of the most common hazards that cause injury to seamen and offshore workers.

Accident hazards

  • Fall from ship to water
  • Fall from ship structure onto deck or into hold
  • Fall on deck or other surface
  • Overexertion while handling cargo, operating manually-driven ship mechanisms or performing strenuous job duties
  • Cave-in by cargo while working in the hold
  • Struck by falling object
  • Striking against ship structures during a fall or slip
  • Struck by moving objects such as mooring lines, hinged doors, hatches or cargo
  • Caught and entangled in mooring lines
  • Caught between ship structures, items of cargo, etc.
  • Burns caused by steam or engine exhaust
  • Severe cold injury from working with metal parts  in cold weather
  • Electrical shock from defective or faulty electrical equipment
  • Poisoning caused by contact with hazardous cargo
  • Poisoning caused by contact with cleaning supplies or other solvents used on-the-job
  • Poisoning caused by spoiled or contaminated food or drinking water
  • Fires
  • Explosions of explosive cargo
  • Explosions and implosions of pressure vessels and lines
  • Cuts, stabs and amputations caused by sharp parts of cargo, mooring lines, ropes, chains, or ship mechanisms

Physical Hazards

  • Exposure to ultraviolet radiation while working under direct sunlight
  • Exposure to electro-magnetic fields emitted by ship’s radar and communication equipment
  • Vibration of the body caused by ship engines and vibration-like motion caused by ship movement
  • Exposure to incessant noise of ship engines
  • Exposure to extreme weather conditions, including extreme temperatures
  • Exposure to extreme heat while working below deck

Chemical Hazards

  • Prolonged exposure to chemical substances routinely used aboard ship for operation and maintenance, including cleaning solvents, detergents, fuel, welding fumes, paints, pesticides, fumigants, etc.
  • Exposure to chemical substances carried as cargo

Biological Hazards

  • Exposure to poisonous biologically active substances carried cargo, including grain dust, cotton bales, bulk meat, produce, and raw wood
  • Exposure to toxic marine organisms
  • Chronic poisoning and diseases from contaminated food and water
  • Risk of communicable disease from pests, vermin, rodents or insects aboard ship
  • Risk of communicable disease

Other job hazards

  • Cumulative trauma disorders caused by handling heavy loads and performing strenuous physical labor
  • Physical and psychological discomfort caused by crowded living conditions
  • Psychological trauma and personal problems due to constant exposure to danger, separation from family, and irregular sleep patterns
  • Interpersonal relationship problems with other crew members
  • Loss of alertness due to repetitive tasks
  • Exhaustion

Preparing for Weather Hazards

The following are 10 ways to prepare for boating in heavy weather:

  • ensure anyone going on deck is wearing a safety harness;
  • make sure the crew knows ahead of time what to do in the event of extreme weather;
  • ensure life raft is ready for deployment;
  • make sure all hatches are secure, and windows and ports are closed;
  • note your position and plot it on a chart, along with your time and speed;
  • keep pump bilges dry;
  • secure any loose items or gear below and above deck;
  • if possible, make plans on how you’ll alter your course to sheltered waters;
  • make sure emergency equipment is ready (signaling device, bailers, first aid, hand pumps, etc.); and
  • if weather is severe, review your abandon ship procedures.


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