There are a great number of injury risks in a working environment on board a ship.  Risks vary depending on the size, age and type of ship, type of cargo, area of trade and other factors. The likelihood for an injury to happen varies depending on the quality of the risk management and the safety culture on board.A well trained crew on a ship that has implemented an effective bridge resource and crew resource management will be less prone to a major maritime accident. Accidents cause damage to assets as well as people. Major accidents and minor accidents may have quite different antecedents. Good ship design and construction is an important way to minimize the risks of accidents in shipping.


Direct energy release e.g falling, falling objects, explosion, fire

Falling from heights or being hit by falling objects are common causes of personal injuries on board. This typically can happen during loading and unloading and during inspection and maintenance. Explosion and fire are less common but can cause serious damage, loss of lives and even total loss of ship.  Safe working practices can readily minimise these risks



Chemicals frequently cause personal injuries. Crewmembers can have an almost total lack of knowledge about chemicals and their possible harmful effects. Therefore they do not have the necessary respect for dangerous chemicals. There is also a common misunderstanding that the handling of chemicals is an issue only for the chemical carriers.  Every ship has an inventory of a large number of chemicals for different purposes. As an example, potent chemicals used for cleaning purposes frequently cause personal injuries.
Chemicals that are transported on chemical tankers or in loaded containers can be extremely potent and cause serious accidents if not safely contained, especially during loading and unloading.


Interaction of technical and human factors

The interface between man and machine is complex and can be an important factor that can leads to accidents in the absence of  effective risk analysis and risk management. New technology is continually brought to the market and taken into use. An example is new bridge equipment where illuminated displays can impair night vision in the lookout.


Human limitations and impairment

Working a ship at sea is not the only demand on crewmembers. Lean manning, challenging watch schemes, frequent port calls, short stays in port, bureaucratic paperwork and procedures, frequent inspections, multicultural and multilingual crews, impaired social and family life, and continual multi-tasking represent challenges to the human capacity. Fatigue is an important issue. Pre-employment medical examinations may eliminate those who are not fit to work at sea but  can do little to select those who are fit. Valid methods for assessment of psychological fitness have yet to be developed and put in place.
Human limitations can also affect the ability to ask the necessary ‘what if’ questions and to perform a proper risk assessment. Complacency is another challenge.


Multiple contributory causes

It is common to find that when an accident is investigated a complicated set of factors contributed to it. It is therefore necessary to consider the interactions between different potential contributors in the course of any detailed risk assessments in order to prevent accidents.  A range of expertise and experience is often needed to do this.



Reliable documentation of events may be difficult to obtain. There is a drive to hide accidents or to try to reduce their recorded seriousness to reduce liabilities for harm and because of the role that safety rating plays in contractual business relations. Defensive approaches to avoid personal blame or to secure bonuses are frequent. There is a lack of agreed summary statistics and so high quality epidemiological studies are very difficult to perform.
During risk assessment sand accident investigations there may be a lack of willingness to ask difficult ‘what if’ questions. As a consequence the ‘risks behind the risks’ and the ‘causes behind the causes’ may not be identified.
A serious challenge may also be personal or corporate complacency, especially if no other incidents have occurred recently.
Theoretical models are not sufficiently validated. Examples of such models are: Heinrich's triangle, Reason’s Swiss cheese, DuPont safety culture.



Environmental risks are given much attention. Risks to animals, fishes, plankton, plants, seaweed and other forms of life are given often greater attention than risks to humans. The features of environmental risks in some respects resemble the human health risks at work and with similar negative health effects that are mediated by biological processes.
There is a need to separate risks to humans, risks to other species and amenity problems and handle them accordingly. Ship design and construction as well as good operating practices can be used to minimize the environmental risks of shipping.


Oil spill

Oil spill is a major threat to the coastline and especially to beaches and seabirds and marine life. There is always a high level of negative publicity when an oil spill happens. There are enormous costs for clean-up and compensation to local fishermen and other stakeholders. These costs can eventually run a shipping company into bankruptcy. The long-term negative effects on the environment are often not serious.


Non-oil spill

Noxious chemicals that are spilled in a ship accident may cause serious effects to the environment and even accumulate in the ecosystem.



Emissions from the propulsion machinery are well recognised because of the high taxes related to emissions. Fuel-efficient machinery and reliable cleaning techniques are carefully considered in ship design.


Movement of alien species

Transport between continents represents a high risk of moving organisms and microorganisms to new locations. An example is the challenge of ballast water transporting a range of alien species if barriers are not established and closely monitored.


Food chains and contaminant concentration

Chemical spills can affect marine food chains and be concentrated by passage through a food chain. The consequences can destroy local fisheries and other businesses if the catch comes from species at the top of the food chain.


Ship design

Good ship design is an important part of management of the environmental risks of shipping. Double hulls, good manoeuvrability, sufficient engine power, sturdy ships and equipment, watertight sections both longitudinal and transverse and other measures reduce the likelihood of an accident and reduce the consequences if an accident happens.  The use of biodegradable or recyclable materials in construction and the avoidance of persistent ecotoxic substances can reduce the environmental impact throughout a ship’s lifecycle.


Ship breaking

Intelligent ship design ensures that ship breaking can be done in an environmentally friendly way and with a low risk of occupationally related harmful exposure to the workforce.



Man has assumed in the past and some still have the assumption that the sea is a ‘big sink’ for waste. The consequence is that still there are cases of illegal environmental spills. There are good reasons to believe that it is rule-following and especially taxes and possible fines are the driving factors for current reductions in the environmental impact of shipping rather than any true wish to minimise risks to the environment. There is also a strong societal pressure, which plays an important part. The same drives to risk reduction are less obvious when it comes to harm to humans at work, such as seafarers. This  can be seen from the far higher scale of fines that apply for harming the marine environmental as compared with those for harming the health of seafarers.



Some important principles applicable to all health, safety and environmental risks are listed below:

  • Design for minimum risk
  • Reduce dangerous inventories
  • Engineer to contain
  • Exposure control
  • Good work practices
  • Information and education
  • Incentives, beware of the possible adverse effects
  • Reliable reporting and statistics
  • Monitoring – routine and special
  • Management approaches: coercion, compliance, consent, commitment
  • Effectively implemented quality assurance incl. audits
  • Continuous improvement, beware of the possible adverse effects
  • Introduction of improvements and other challenging processes
    (stepwise, thought leaders, toolbox talks)