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The waterborne sector plays a relevant role in Europe because the European Union is surrounded by oceans and crisscrossed by 43 000 kilometers of navigable inland waterways. About three million people are working in the European waterborne transport sectors. About 90 % of the external trade and more than 40 % of internal trade in the EU are waterborne. Shipping is of strategic importance to the EU economy: every year two billion tons of cargo are loaded and unloaded in EU ports and one billion tons of oil transits through EU ports and EU waters.[1] In addition, 350 million passengers pass through the EU’s 1 200 seaports.[2] This article will look at typical problems in waterborne transports covering the safety of the seafarers, boatmen and dockworkers. Fishery is not included in this article. For fisheries please go to Accident prevention in fisheries

Waterborne Transport Operations

Waterborne transport includes maritime and inland waterway transport. Both perform freight as well as passenger transport. Maritime transport is divided into short sea shipping (coastal transport) and deep-sea shipping (long-trade navigation) [3]. Short sea shipping includes the movement of cargo and passengers, mainly by sea along a coast. However, it also covers maritime transport between the EU Member States, other states in the Baltic Sea and the Mediterranean as well as Norway and Iceland. [3] In EU-28, short sea shipping represented 60% of total maritime transport of goods in 2012. [4]

Deep-sea shipping refers to the maritime transport of goods on intercontinental routes, crossing oceans.[5] It involves long distances and is generally carried out by liner shipping services.[6]

Inland waterway transport plays an important role for the transport of goods in Europe. It is carried out on navigable waterways like rivers, canals or lakes over which vessels of a carrying capacity of no less than 50 tons can navigate when normally loaded [7]. In 2011, 141 billion ton-kilometers were transported within EU member states.[7] Important inland waterways in Europe are: the North Sea - Baltic Corridor, the Mediterranean Corridor, the East - Med Corridor, the Rhine - Alpine Corridor, the Atlantic Corridor, the North Sea - Med Corridor, and the Rhine - Danube Corridor.
Inland waterway transport Moselle/Germany
Inland waterway transport Moselle/Germany

Ports are land-based infrastructures serving waterborne transport. They are used for loading and unloading freights and for catering fresh water and supplies.

Ships carry a many different goods and vary greatly in size and type. There are: tankers, bulk carriers, container ships, roll-on roll-off vessels, general cargo vessels, ferries, tugs, passenger ferries and cruise ships or fishing vessels (see also Accident prevention in fisheries). Larger sized ships are used for deep-sea and smaller ones for short sea transport. Barges are mainly used to carry cargo on inland waterways. Working on board of a ship is very different from occupations on land. Looking at the maritime transport, a ship crew has a very clear structure and hierarchy. Each seafarer has a special position with specific responsibilities. The master or captain has the overall authority and responsibility for safe and efficient operations of the vessel and for the safety and the protection of the crew. Other crew members are (e.g. for a merchant vessel):

  • the deck department with deck officers (chief officer, second officer, third officer, deck cadet) and deck ratings,
  • the engine department with engineers (chief, first, second, third assistant engineer, engine cadet) and engine ratings and,
  • the catering department with cooks and stewards.

Workers in the inland waterway transport sector have three main functions:

  • The boatmaster is responsible for the barge (navigation and maintenance) and the crew.
  • The helmsman assists with the navigation, but does not have the overall responsibility.
  • The boatman also assists during navigation and does maintenance and mooring.

Working in ports involves a number of different workers and contractors, such as dockworkers, truck drivers, crane drivers, mooring crews, ship crews, customs and excise staff and others. Dockworkers are recruited to perform unloading and loading work in connection with the arrival and departure of the ships. In the seaports of the 22 maritime member states of the European Union, some 2,200 port operators currently employ around 110,000 dock workers who are engaged in the loading and unloading of ships as well as work related to warehousing and logistics [8]. About 200 inland ports exist in the European member states including Switzerland, Moldova and Ukraine [9]. The biggest inland port in Europe is the port of Duisburg.

Working conditions

In 2011, about 175,400 people were employed in the maritime transport sector in the EU-28 (workers working in ports are not included), which account for 1.7 % of the total transport workforce. 40,800 people worked in the inland waterway transport sector in 2011 in the EU-28, which accounts for 0.5 % of the total transport workforce and 19 % of the waterborne work force.[10]

The working conditions of maritime transportation, inland waterway transportation and working on shore (dock work) differ widely. While deep-sea transport is of high risk for the safety and health of workers, inland waterway transport is one of the safest modes of transport.[7]

Maritime transport

Seafarers spend long periods being at sea, often several months. Being away from home for a long time, they are one of the most isolated group of workers in the world. Social isolation was found to be a significant issue for seafarers.[11]

About 65 % of the world’s merchant ships are manned with multinational crews with different languages, and various cultural and religious backgrounds.[11] (Cross-cultural difference in OSH) This puts an extra strain on the communication and the understanding of differences. Having to manage numerous personalities, ages, skills and employees with different cultural backgrounds on board a ship is a challenge for the management especially regarding health and safety on board.[12]

Inland Waterway Transport

The inland waterway transport sector is characterised by a large number of companies with a small number of barges and with less than ten workers. The majority of the companies are one-ship companies.[7]

The inland waterway transport is one of the safest modes of transport: only 0.0039 people are injured and 0.0004 workers die due to navigation-related accidents per 1,000 ton kilometers.[7]

However, not all accidents are navigation-related: inland navigation workers are exposed to unique living and working conditions similar to maritime workers: working long hours, night work, bad weather conditions, noise, vibration, physical work, dangerous substances and confined spaces.

Inland waterway traffic records an increasing traffic density. A high density of vessels on the rivers, strong water currents and variation in water levels make navigation difficult and increase the risk of collisions with other vessels, objects, riversides, bridges and grounding. Material damage is the most common consequence of those accidents.[13]

Women in the Maritime Sector

The transport sector is still dominated by men. In 2011, women represented only 18 % of EU 27 transport workforce but made up 45 % of the total workforce in the EU.[14]

Especially the employment of women in the maritime sector on board is an exception. The maritime sector is one of the most men-dominated sectors. Women make up only an estimated 2 % of the world's maritime workforce.[15] They are mainly employed in the cruise and ferry sector in hotels, do catering and 'non-technical' tasks.[16]

In inland waterway transports women employment is more common due to the fact that the sector is based on small family businesses. According to the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) about 16 % of the workers employed in the inland waterway transport are women. Many are based at inland ports.[17]

Dock work

Ports are still dangerous places to work with a high accident rate. New technologies have transformed the dock work in the last decades: physically demanding manual labour was replaced with handling and operating highly technological equipment. With the introduction of containers dock work has changed to a job that requires high qualifications. Workers operate gantry cranes, straddle carriers, hustlers and other types of cargo-handling equipment. However, dock work remains very dangerous and new risks, such as working with robotic vehicles, emerged.[18]

Work at ports is performed day and night, in long shifts and in all types of weather. Unloading and loading of ships need to be done very quickly, because having vessels standing in the port involves high costs.

The most common accidents involve slips, trips and falls, being hit by objects and vehicles and musculoskeletal injuries.

Hazards and Risks

Waterborne Transport

Working at sea is one of the most dangerous forms of employment due to the hazardous nature of the maritime environment. This is aggravated by the fact that ships are both workplace and home: Seafarers are not only exposed to risks and hazards at work, but also in their living environment.

Work Environment "It has been established that seafaring is one of the most physically demanding professions in one of the most dangerous work environments: the sea." (International Maritime Health Association.[19]

The most challenging environmental issue is the presence of water. The open ocean but also inland waterways present constantly undulating surfaces which can cause vibration-like motions (low frequency, large amplitude) of the whole body caused by ship rolling and pitching resulting in vestibular disturbances and seasickness.[20]

Workers on board are exposed to heavy weather condition such as wind, rain, cold, heat, and intense sunlight. Seafarers are at enhanced risk of developing skin cancer due to exposure to extremely high solar UV radiation, or have to work in confined spaces for example in the machinery, storage rooms or cargo holds.

They are also exposed to permanent and excessive noise and vibration of the whole body caused by ship engines, propulsion system, machinery, fans, pumps and the pounding of waves on the ship’s hull. The sound and vibration energy is transmitted through the ship’s metallic structure to nearly all spaces, without a possibility to escape from noise and vibration.[20] Noise, vibration and ship motion may also affect workers even at night and disturb resting and sleep.

Work Organisation – Working Time Working on board of ships is associated with special mental and psychosocial risk factors. Seafarers are separated for a long time from their families and friends sometimes several months: loneliness, homesickness and "burn out" syndrome have been identified as the three main psychological problems among seafarers. They work long hours a day (12 hours seven days a week) and shifts. They have only little possibilities for leisure activities: The whole life takes place in the same environment with limited space.

The separation from family, long working hours, unstable work schedules, the difficult working environment, the confined nature of the life on board, and the demanding workloads can lead to stress, aggression, burn-out and fatigue and mental health problems.

In waterborne transport, situations of harassment and bullying can be a particular burden because of the special environment. The limited space on the ships makes it more difficult to avoid conflicts. According to a survey carried out by Nautilus International about bullying, discrimination and harassment carried out in 2010, 43% of respondents said they suffered bullying, discrimination or harassment.[21] Bullying and harassment at the workplace can have serious consequences for the physical and psychosocial health of workers. Workers suffering from harassment or bullying on ships often ask for a transfer to another ship and do not report the incident because they think they will not get any support or might suffer reprisals.[22]

Seafarers may also be exposed to extreme forms of workplace violence through piracy and armed robbery. Piracy against merchant ships poses a significant threat to seafarers sailing in the deep sea (see also Workplace violence). The most areas affected by piracy in 2011 were Somalia, the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. In 2013, the most affected areas were the South China Sea, West Africa and the Western Indian.[23][24] Pirates are often heavily armed and engage in extreme violent behavior. Traumatic experiences such as being kept in captivity by pirates and being in life danger can cause relevant psychopathological disorders in victims and their families.

IMO published Best Management Practices for Protection against Piracy to assist ships to avoid, deter or delay piracy attacks in high risk areas, such as Somalia or the Gulf of Aden.[25] Ship operators, ship masters and the crew should be informed and advised on preventing and suppressing acts of piracy and armed robbery against ships.[26]

Accidents on Board A Danish study about seafarers on Danish merchant ships shows a six-time increased risk of seafarers being fatally injured than workers ashore in the period 2002-2009.[27]

A Spanish study in the period 1999-2003 found an incident rate of occupational accidents in the maritime sector of 9.6 compared to the national average of 6.1 per 1,000,000 workers.[28]

Accidents on board may have serious and fatal consequences. Most accidents happen while working on deck and to ratings (table 1 and 2).

Slips, trips and falls are the biggest hazards on board. Gangway slips, trips and falls occur for many reasons like defective ladders, lack of handrails, improper maintained gangways, slippery walking surfaces or obstacles in walkways, poor lighting, inattentiveness or bad weather. Poor access to ships is a cause of serious, and sometimes fatal, incidents of crew members boarding or leaving the ship. Gangway failure usually takes place as a result of poor maintenance and failure of a gangway wire rope. Falls can also happen while working on heights such as on masts, lashing bridges, hatch covers, cargo holds and working aloft or outboard.[29]

Another common type accident is an enclosed space accident. Enclosed spaces are designed to store goods, to enclose materials and processes, or transport products or substances. Entry by workers for survey, inspection, maintenance, repair, clean up, or similar tasks is often difficult and dangerous because of a lack of air, hazardous atmospheres, the presence of chemicals or physical hazards (risk of fall from unguarded heights, falling objects) and risk of engulfment.[30]

Crane and lifting operations involve a high percentage of accidents on ship decks. Workers may be struck by falling objects during cargo handling or in stormy weather.

Manny accidents occur while anchoring, berthing or mooring. Winches, ropes and mooring lines are therefore inherently dangerous. Mooring accidents have serious consequences and may lead to severe injury or death of seamen. Workers can be caught in bights, become entangled with mooring ropes or get hit with great force by parted ropes in motion.[31]

Electrical equipment is used on ships for many purposes. However, poor insulation, defective cables, machines or tools may cause electrical shock accidents.

Working with machinery may also pose workers at risk: accidents involving machinery may have severe or fatal consequences, such as the amputation of a finger, a hand or a foot or the entanglement of a worker. Sudden motions of ships in rough seas may increase the risk of falling onto a machine.[32]

Other accidents that may happen on board are burns caused by steam or engine exhaust. Cold injuries are caused by metal parts while working on deck or on ship structures in very cold weather. Explosion and fire of explosive or flammable cargo is of great danger to the crew and ship. Improperly maintained machinery may also lead to explosions.

Table 1: Occupational Accidents aboard Merchant Ships Related to Occupations in Denmark (1993-1997)

Occupation on board Notified accidents not causing disability of 5 % or more Accidents causing permanent disability of ≥5 %
Navigation officer 131 43
Ship's engineers 171 35
Rating, decks 720 75
Ratings, engine 96 10
Galley crew 65 12
Catering crew 35 6
Other crew members 61 7


Table 2: Working Situations at the Time of the Accident for all Notified Accidents, Accidents Causing Permanent Disability and Fatal Accidents

Working situation at time of accident Notified accidents not causing any permanent disability or death (% of total) Accidents causing permanent disability of 5 % or more (% of total) Fatal accidents (% of total)
Work on deck 789 (44.9) 98 (46.9) 15 (46)
Work in the engine room 293 (16.7) 37 (17.7) 37 (17.7)
Service functions (Catering, cleaning accomodations, galley work) 280 (15.9) 8 (3.8) 0
Walking from one place to another 182 (10.4) 44 (21.1) 4 (14)
Boat and fire drills 28 (1.6) 4 (1.9) 2 (7)
Duty on bridge 7 (0.4) 5 (2.4) 0
Transport, ashore (on duty) 7 (0.4) 1 (0.5) 1 (4)
Maritime disasters 4 (0.2) 4 4(1.9) 1 (4)
Accidents while off duty ashore 71 (4.0) 2 (1.0) 4 (15)
Accidents while off duty on board 59 (3.4) 3 (1.4) 0
Violence from passengers, piracy 17 (1.0) 2 (1.0) 0
Other accidents, poorly described accidents 20 (1.1) 1 (0.5) 0
Total 1757 (100) 209 (100) 27 (100)

Source [33]

Hazardous Substances Workers on board of ships may be exposed to chemical substances (cleaning solvents, detergents, fuel, welding fumes, paints, pesticides, fumigants, etc.) routinely used on ships for cleaning and maintenance operations. In addition, they may be exposed to dangerous substances carried by the ship as cargo, such as petrochemicals, styrene, and vinyl chloride during loading and unloading.[34]

Especially ship engineers are exposed to different chemicals, organic solvents, exhaust gases, oils, and petroleum products, and were formerly exposed to asbestos as some years ago asbestos was used extensively in ships.[1] According to a study among ship engineers in Iceland, they have an increased risk of stomach cancer, lung cancer, pleural cancers, and cancer of the urinary bladder [35] (see also Work-related cancer).

Sanitation and Communicable Diseases Being at risk of communicable diseases is mainly an issue for maritime transport (Table 3). International transport of good and passengers are known to be linked with the risk of spreading communicable diseases across borders (see also Occupational zoonoses). Ships are isolated living areas where seafarers share living quarters in relatively small areas for a long time (like an incubator for communicable diseases). The crew is often in close contact.

Sanitation may also be a problem on ships especially concerning the supply of fresh water. Numerous outbreaks and incidents of infectious diseases, particularly gastro-intestinal diseases and the Legionnaires’ disease, are likely to occur on ships.[36].

The safe bunkering of water and the maintenance of the potable water system is of vital importance. Water is usually sourced from potable supplies on shore or generated at sea from sea water. It shall be ensured that potable water on board is of satisfactory quality and suitable for the purpose. Potable water must be free from chemicals and biological contamination.[20] The World Health Organization, WHO, published a guide for ship sanitation.[37]

Ebola virus disease is a severe, often fatal illness in humans. The average case fatality rate lies around 50 %. The World Health Organization WHO states that "the current outbreak in West Africa, (first cases notified in March 2014), is the largest and most complex Ebola outbreak since the Ebola virus was first discovered in 1976".[38] Passengers originating from locations affected by the on-going Ebola outbreak pose a hazard to workers in the maritime transport. The European Union (EU) SHIPSAN ACT Joint Action has published a 'Questions and Answers' section about the Ebola virus disease in the maritime transport sector on its website as well as a guidance for the Ebola virus disease and shipping .[36][39]

Crew immunisation for certain diseases, such as diphtheria, polio, tetanus, measles, hepatitis A and B is crucial. Training and information on how to avoid contact of virulent/infectious agents have to be ensured.

Table 3: Diseases that Have Been Associated with Maritime Transport[40]

Viral gastroenteritis due to Norovirus
Gastroenteritis due to V. parahaemolyticus
Staphylococcus poisoning
Ciguatera Fish Poisoning
Hepatitis E

Source [40]

Table 4 provides a short overview about some risks in waterborne transport.

Table 4: Hazards in Waterborne Transport - Overview

Hazards Examples
Mechanical: moving objects or vehicles Winches, pumps, fans, drive shafts, compressors, propellers, hatches, doors, booms, cranes, mooring lines, moving cargo
Electrical Batteries, vessel generators, dockside electrical sources, unprotected or ungrounded electric motors (pumps, fans, etc.), exposed wiring, navigation and communication electronics
Thermal Steam pipes, cold storage spaces, power plant exhaust, cold- or warm-weather exposure above deck
Noise Vessel propulsion system, pumps, ventilation fans, winches, steam-powered devices, conveyor belts
Falls form height Steep ladders, deep vessel holds, missing railings, narrow gangways, elevated platforms
Chemical Cleaning solvents, cargo, detergents, welding, rusting/corrosion processes, refrigerants, pesticides, fumigants
Sanitation Contaminated potable water, food spoilage, deteriorated vessel waste system
Biological Grain dust, raw wood products, cotton bales, bulk fruit or meat, seafood products, communicable disease agents Communicable diseases: Ebola,
Radiation Intense sunlight, arc welding, radar, microwave communications
Violence Assault, homicide, violent conflict among crew
Confined space Cargo holds, ballast tanks, crawl spaces, fuel tanks, boilers, storage rooms, refrigerated holds
Physical work Moving awkward cargo in restricted spaces, handling heavy mooring lines, prolonged stationary watch standing
Psychosocial Lone working, working away from home, shift work, long working hours,
Slips and trips Wet or icy gangway, badly stowed ropes and cables
Drowning Falling off board

Source: based on [20]

Dock work

Ports are often dangerous places to work. Dock workers face many hazards during the loading and unloading of cargoes and the movement and operation of vehicles.

They are at risk of being struck by moving objects and vehicles and slips trips and falls. They face risk to health from poor ergonomic design, poor workplace infrastructure and long or intensive shift patterns[22]

Dock workers have to work regardless of the weather conditions.

Most transport related accidents in ports are serious or fatal.[41] Typical workplace transport hazards are: loading and unloading, reversing, driving on dockside or in container storage areas, coupling and uncoupling on dockside and on the ship. [41] Increasing containerisation changed considerably lifting operations with special vehicles such as gantry cranes, slewing cranes or special fork lift trucks. Accidents from lifting equipment may occur due: failure of lifting equipment, poor maintenance, falling loads, and workers struck by moving load or lifting equipment.

Falls from height may happen while boarding or leaving the ship, working on the decks, working on the top of containers, and on vehicles.

Dock workers are at risk of being caught or entangled by ropes and mooring lines and by working in confined spaces.

Other risks and hazards include exposure to noise from ships, vehicles, machines and to dangerous substances may occur when opening fumigated containers, handling chemical or dusty cargoes.

Dock workers may suffer from musculoskeletal diseases (MSD). They have to lift and carry heavy loads involving repetitive movements and work in awkward positions. Whole-body vibration from vehicles may also cause MSDs.

However, the main risks for dock workers are due to slips and trips. According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) over a quarter of all reportable accidents are due to slips and trips.[42] Table 5 provides a short list about risk and hazards in dock work.

The ILO code of practice on Safety and Health in Dock Work provides guidance for people involved in management, operation, maintenance and development of port.[43]

Table 5: Hazards in Dock Work - Overview

Hazards Examples
Mechanical, moving objects or vehicles Workplace transport
Dangerous substances Dusty cargoes containing grains, soya, food, fishmeal, coal, cement and other dusty cargoes.
Physical work Musculoskeletal disorders due to whole body vibrations created by vehicles, manual handling of heavy loads
Falls from height Container-top working, access to and from places of work on ships, falls from vehicles
Slips and trips Working on uneven, wet or icy surfaces; badly stowed ropes and cables; discarded packaging and pallets
Confined spaces Confined spaces in ships and warehouses, working in silos, and bins,
Noise Ships, machines, vehicles
Psychosocial Time pressure, night shifts, long working hours

Compiled by the author based on[42]


The number of non-fatal and fatal accidents provided by Eurostat includes maritime as well as inland waterway accidents (Table 6). Eurostat does not provide these data for the subsectors.

Table 6: Numbers of Non-Fatal and Fatal Work Accidents in Waterborne Transport [ESAW]
Table 6: Numbers of Non-Fatal and Fatal Work Accidents in Waterborne Transport [ESAW]
Source: Eurostat [44]
Maritime Transport According to the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA), accidents increased in the last years due to the general increase of ship traffic. "The main causes for accidents are the poor weather conditions, insufficient training, lower manning levels and fatigue."[45]

The safety is regulated by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) through the International Convention for Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS). The EMSA provides the EU Commission with technical assistance with regard to inspections and monitoring the application of EU maritime safety legislation. Every year, the EMSA publishes a maritime accident review.

The figures presented in this publication wants to provide a general overview of the safety of maritime transport in the scope of European interests.

Inland Waterway Transport Statistics about inland waterway transport accidents are difficult to obtain.

Eurostat does not provide numbers of injured workers due to inland waterway transport accidents, but a short overview about accidents in the sector. Accordingly, 75 % of inland waterway transportation accidents in 2013 took place in Romania, followed by Austria (11.5 %). In the Czech Republic, the number of accidents decreased by 78 % in the period from 1995-2013 (from 32 in 1995 to seven in 2013). The data on inland waterway transportation accidents are available only for eight countries (Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Hungary, Austria, Poland, Romania and Slovakia).[46]

The Dutch National Institute for Public Health and Environment (RIVM) analysed the period 1998-2009 and recorded accidents in inland waterway transports. 204 injuries were reported altogether. 45 were boatmen, 30 boatmasters and 19 helmsmen, all others were workers on shore, such as crane operators, dock workers and electricians. Most injuries were fractures, concussions, amputations, internal injuries and bruises. 13 workers died as a result of drowning, two because of moving objects and falling from height.[47]

Rules and Regulations

Directive 89/391 – the OSH "Framework Directive" is the main EU law governing occupational safety and health at work. Under this directive, several so-called daughter directives were adopted (General principles of EU OSH legislation) Most of them are relevant for waterborne transport because of the diverse nature of jobs in this sector. Table 7 lists some important daughter directives.

Table 7: Directives Related to Safer Working in the Waterborne Transport Sector

Directive 89/654/EEC - workplace requirements
Directive 89/655/EEC - use of work equipment
Directive 2006/42/EC - new machinery directive
Directive 89/686/EEC - personal protective equipment
Directive 2003/10/EC – noise
Directive 2002/44/EC – vibration
Directive 96/29/Euratom - ionizing radiation
Directive 2013/35/EU - electromagnetic fields
Directive 2000/54/EC - biological agents at work
Directive 90/396/EEC - burning gaseous fuels
Directive 90/269/EEC - manual handling of loads

Source: Compiled by the author

The special conditions of life and work of seafarers are subject to additional EU law:

  • Directive 92/29/EEC on medical treatment on board vessels aims at improving medical assistance at sea since a vessel represents a workplace involving a wide range of risks.[48] Ships’ officers generally receive basic first-aid and other medical training because it is often difficult or even impossible to get a doctor on board or to transport the ill or injured patient ashore. Directive 92/29/EEC - requires member states to designate one or more centers to provide radio medical advice to ships.
  • Working time in maritime transport is regulated by Council Directive 1999/63/EC, amended by the Directive 2009/13/EEC, and Directive 1999/95/EC of 13.12.1999 concerning the enforcement of provisions in respect of seafarers’ hours of work on board ships calling at community ports.[49]
  • Directive 2009/16/EC on Port State Control aims to ensure effective control of compliance with international standards by ships in EU ports and, thereby, ensures that ships sailing in EU waters have been appropriately constructed and are adequately maintained. [50]
  • Directive 2012/35/EU amending Directive 2008/106/EC on the minimum level of training of seafarers.[51]
  • Working time in inland waterway transport it is regulated by Directive 1993/104 as amended by Directive 2000/34/EC [52].

International regulations were developed by the ILO. In 2006, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) adopted the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) [53] establishing mandatory minimum working and living standards for all seafarers working on ships flying the flags of ratifying countries.

The MLC consists of five titles:

  1. Minimum requirements for seafarers to work on a ship
  2. Conditions of employment
  3. Accommodation, recreational facilities, food and catering
  4. Health protection, medical care, welfare and social security protection
  5. Enforcement

The convention has globally entered into force on 20 August 2013. Compliance with these regulations is controlled by means of periodical inspections by flag states and port states. The Maritime Source provides more information about health and safety laws for seafarers in Europe.[54]

The ILO has published a code of practice relating to occupational safety at ports and occupational health of dockers, with particular reference to cargo handling.[55]

Prevention Measures

After the hazards have been identified, the next step is to analyse the work processes and to determine who will be exposed to these hazards and to what extent. This will then lead to the identification of the necessary prevention and control measures including the reassessment of the effectiveness of the already existing measures. The selection of measures has to follow a certain hierarchy to ensure that the most effective measures like avoidance and substitution are considered first and the least effective ones such as personal protective equipment are seen as the last resort. It is advisable to involve the workers into this risk assessment process as they have very sound knowledge about the conditions and risks at their workplaces. [OSH training| Training] and instructions should be provided for all workers and accompany all types of measures so workers know and practice new methods and processes. Effective risk control may involve a single control measure or a combination of two or more different controls.

Examples of prevention measures in the waterborne transport sector are listed in table 8.

Table 8: Examples of Prevention Measures in the Waterborne Transport Sector

Risks and hazards in waterborne transport Examples of prevention measures
  • Creating opportunities for people to get together
  • Establishing a "Welfare officer" who organises the social life on board [see also Workplace Health Promotion)
  • Giving the crew the chance to going ashore
  • Providing the opportunity for the crew to contact their homes:
better access to private e-mail; receiving mail as frequently as possible; ensuring access to news media; mediating social contacts between seamen's families; making it possible to get home in the event of a family crisis; facilitate the access of seafarers to port welfare facilities
  • Making sure that the right language skills are available aboard.
  • Psychosocial support if necessary
Communicable diseases
  • Ensure potable water and food hygiene
  • Access to safe medical care in ports
  • Vaccination of the crew
  • Using the Telemedical Maritime Assistance Service
Slips, trips and falls
  • Identifying hazards which have the potential to cause slips, trips and falls
  • Wear appropriate foot wear
  • Put non-slip surfaces in place/use non-slip paint
  • Equip gangways with handrails
  • Maintain gangways and pilot ladders
  • Remove trip hazards
  • Good lighting arrangements
  • Use safety equipment harness/nets etc.
Enclosed space accidents
  • Confined spaces have to be well ventilated before entering
  • Check space for oxygen content
  • Ensure appropriate lighting
  • Keep one worker standby to communicate with the worker inside
Bad weather condition – falling of board
  • No seafarers should be on deck during heavy weather unless it is absolutely necessary for the safety of the ship or crew.
  • Any person required to go on deck during heavy weather should wear a life jacket and be equipped with a portable transceiver. If possible, the person should remain in communication with a backup person and be visible at all times.
  • Seafarers should work in pairs or in teams. All seafarers should be under the command of an experienced senior officer.
Legionnaires’ disease
  • Regular cleaning and disinfection from water tanks and distribution system
  • Avoid water temperature between 25° and 50°: maintain cold water below 25° and hot water above 50°C
  • Prevention of biofilms: taps and showers are to be run for several minutes at least once a week

Compiled by the author based on[56][57][58][59][60][61]

Different guidance was developed to help workers and employers to prevent risks in the waterborne sector. Some examples are:

General guidelines are provided, for example, by the ILO. The code of practice for accident prevention on board a ship at sea and in ports provides practical recommendations and useful guidance. These include the establishment of a safety and health committee on all ships, with elected seafarers’ safety representatives.[62] The International Transport Workers' Federation, ITF, has produced a training video for the safety representatives of ships. This aims to assist crew and safety representatives to improve the on-board safety culture, and to avoid and deal with any accidents.[63]

A guidance to prevent mooring accidents, including ten rules of thumb, are provided by the Danish Maritime Authority and the Danish Shipowners’ Association[57]:

  1. Always wear the correct personal protective equipment (PPE), which is an important part of proper preparation considering that PPE is the last line of defence.
  2. Always consider whether you are in a snap back zone and never stand on either an open line or a closed bight of line. Keep an eye out for all members of the team. If you think they are in an unsafe position, alert them.
  3. All operations need to be carried out calmly without rushing about. Rushing leads to slips, trips and falls.
  4. Never lose sight of what is going on around you and have an escape route from any likely danger (that is, avoid being trapped against the bulwark or other obstacle when a line parts).
  5. Always put an eye onto a bollard or bitts by holding the eye either on its side or by a messenger line to avoid getting fingers trapped against the bollard if the line suddenly snaps tight.
  6. Never heave blindly on a line when no one is watching what is happening at the other end.
  7. Never try to be heroic by jumping onto a line that is clearly running over the side and out of control, as you are likely to go overboard with it.
  8. Never run more than one line around a fairlead sheave as the lines chafe through quicker and the sheave is really only strong enough to take the load of a single line under tension.
  9. Never use any equipment that is obviously faulty. If you notice damage, then it should be deported and an alternative arrangement for the mooring line used.
  10. Never let go of a mooring line under heavy load without determining first why the load is so heavy and then taking the proper precautions if it must be let go.

The Standard Club provides a master’s guide to enclosed space entry. [64]

The European Community Shipowners’ Association ASCE and the European Transport Workers’Federation (ETF) provide guidance to eliminate workplace harassment and bullying. [22]

The German statutory accident insurance provides several guidelines to health and safety in the inland water transport [30]

The Health and Safety executive HSE published a guidance for safe dock work [65].

EU SHIPSAN ACT is an EU funded Project which is aimed at strengthening an integrated strategy and sustainable mechanisms at the European Union level for safeguarding the health of passengers and workers of passenger and cargo ships and preventing the cross-border spread of diseases. They published a manual for hygiene standards and communicable disease surveillance on passenger ships.[66]

Risk Assessment Tools

In 2009, the EU-OSHA began to develop a web application (tools generator) to create interactive risk assessment tools (OiRA tools). These OiRA tools help micro- and small organisations to put in place a risk assessment process – starting with the identification and evaluation of workplace risks, going over to decision making on preventive actions and the taking of action and ending with monitoring and reporting. Meanwhile (2015), the social partners of the water transport sector in Bulgaria started to develop their own OiRA tool for the sector. The tool allows small companies and self-employed persons to do their legally required risk assessment in a time-effective manner and at the same time find a comprehensive inventory of up-to-date prevention and control measures, whereby they can select the most appropriate ones for their businesses.[67]


[1] European Commission, ''European Technology Platform Waterborne'', ETP Status Report, No. 4, 2009, pp. 99-101.

[2] ''EU Commission, Staying ahead of the wave'', DG for Research and Innovation, 2011, pp. 4-5. Available at:

[3] Observatory of Transport Policies and Strategies in Europe, 'Short sea shipping in Europe', ''Bulletin of the Observatory of Transport policies and strategies in Europe'', No 33, 2013, p. 1. Available at:

[4] Eurostat (2015). Maritime transport statistics - short sea shipping of goods. Retrieved 6 March 2015, from:

[5] Eurostat, glossary (2013). Deep sea shipping. Retrieved 6 March 2015, from:

[6] European Parlament, 'Maritime Transport and the Maritime Industries', ''The Common Maritime Policy'', Chapter one, 1996. Available at:

[7] de Leeuw van Weenen, R., Ferencz J., Chin, S., van der Geest, W., 'Living and Working conditions in Inland Navigation in Europe', ''ILO Working Paper'' No. 297, 2013, p.2/ p. 7. Available at:

[8] Van Hooydonk, E., ''Port Labour in the EU – The EU Perspective'' – Volume I, Portius, Study commissioned by the European Commission, Brussels, Contract Number MOVE/C2/2010-81/SI2.588013, Final Report, 8 January 2013. Available at:

[9] European Federation of Inland Ports (2015). Retrieved 9 March 2015, from

[10] EU Commission, ''EU transport in figures'', Statistical pocket book 2014, p. 24-25. Available at:

[11] Oldenburg,M., Baur,X., Schlaich,C., 'Occupational risks and challenges of seafaring', ''Journal of Occupational Health'' No. 52, 2010, pp. 249-256

[12] Seahealth, Multicultureal Crews (2014). Retrieved 10 March 2015, from:

[13] Vidan, P., Grzadzielaa, A., Bošnjak, R., 'Proposal of Measures for Increasing the Safety Level of Inland Navigation', ''Trans. marit. sci.'' No. 02, 2012, pp. 85-88. Available at:

[14] European Union, ''Employment in the EU transport sector'', 2013. Available at:

[15] ITT Seafarers (2015). Inside the Issues. Women Seafarers. Retrieved 2 July 2015, from:

[16] ITF Seafarers (2015). The dark side of cruise industry. Retrieved 12 March 2015, from:

[17] Nautilus International (2014). Retrieved 12 March 2015, from:

[18] Reference for Business (2015). SIC 4491 Marine Cargo Handling. Retrieved 5 March 2015 from:

[19] International Maritime Health Association, Newsletter N°. 14, 2012.

[20] Adess, M., Ungs, T.J., 'Water Transportation and the Maritime Industries', ''Encyclopedia of Occupational Health and Safety'', Jeanne Mager Stellman, Editor-in-Chief. International Labor Organization, Geneva (2011). Retrieved 2 March 2015, from:

[21] Nautilus International, ''Bullying, Discrimination & Harassment survey 2010'', Report, 2011. Available at:

[22] European Community Shipowners’ Association ASCE and the European Transport Workers’Federation ETF, ''Eliminating workplace Harassment and Bullying – guidelines to shipping companies'', 2013. Available at:

[23] World Shipping Council (2015). Industry Issues. Retrieved 6 March 2015, from:

[24] International Maritime Organisation – IMO, 'Reports on Acts of Piracy and armed robbery against ships' – ''Annual Report 2013'', 2013. Available at:

[25] International Maritime Organisation - IMO, Best Management Practices for Protection against Somalia Based Piracy, BMP4, 2011, pp. 1-99. Available at:

[26] International Maritime Organisation - IMO, ''Best Management Practices for Protection against Somalia Based Piracy'', BMP4, 2011, pp. 1-99. Available at:

[27] Borch, D.F., Hansen, H.L., Burr, H., Jepsen, J.R., 'Surveillance of maritime deaths on board Danish merchant ships', 1986-2009, ''Int. Marit. Health'', No. 63, 1, 2012, pp. 7-16.

[28] Rodríguez Louro, J., Franguela Formoso, J.Á., 'Work related Accidents in the Maritime Transport Sector', ''The Journal of Navigation'', No. 60, 2007, pp. 303-313. Available at:

[29] Bhattathiri, N., 7 most common Types of Accidents on Ship’s Deck, marine insight, 2014. Available at:

[30] Berufsgenossenschaft für Transport und Verkehrswirtschaft (2105). Binnenschifffahrt. Retrieved 10 March 2015, from:

[31] Spencer, C., ''A master guide to: Enclosed Space Entry'', The Standard P&I Club, 2012, pp. 1-60. Available at:

[32] Health and Safety Authority (2015). Fishery. Retrieved 9 March 2015, from:

[33] Hansen, H.L., Nielsen D., Frydenberg M., 'Occupational accidents aboard merchant ships', ''Occup Environ Med'' No. 59, 2002, pp. 85-91. Available at:

[34] Saarni, H., Pentii, J., Pukkala, E.,'Cancer at sea: a case-control study among male Finnish seafarers', ''Occup Environ Med'' No 59, 2002, pp. 613-619. Available at:

[35] Rafnsson, V., Sulem, P., 'Cancer incidence among marine engineers, a population based study', ''Cancer Causes and Control'', No. 14, 2003, pp. 29–35. Available at:

[36] Shipsan Act (2014). Currently available guidance for Ebola virus disease and shipping. Retrieved 25 February 2015, from:

[37] World Health Organisation, ''Guide to ship sanitation'' (third edition), 2011, pp. 1-171. Available at:

[38] WHO – World Health Organization, Ebola virus disease, fact sheet N°103, updated September 2014. Retrieved 26 January 2015, from:

[39] Shipsan Act (2014). Questions and Answers about Ebola virus disease for maritime transport. Retrieved 25 February 2015, from:

[40] Helenic Centre for Disease Control and Prevention HCDCP (2015). Air and maritime transport and public health - e-bulletin.

[41] Walter, D., Wadsworth E., ''Managing the health and safety of workers in globalised terminals'', Cardiff Work Environment Research Centre, 2012. Available at:

[42] Health and Safety Executive HSE, ''A quick guide to health and safety in ports'', no date. Available at:

[43] ILO, Safety and Health in Ports, ILO Code of Practice, 2005. Available at:

[44] Ádám, B., 'Association between nationality and occupational injury risk on Danish non-passenger merchant ships', ''Int. Marit. Health'' No. 64, 3, 2013, pp. 121-125. Available at:

[45] EU Commission, ''Staying ahead of the wave'', DG for Research and Innovation, 2011, pp. 32. Available at:

[46] Eurostat (2014). Transport accident statistics. Retrieved 3 March 2015, from:

[47] EU Commission, ''EU transport in figures'', Statistical pocket book 2014, p 24-25. Available at:

[48] Council Directive 92/29/EEC of 31 March 1992 on the minimum safety and health requirements for improved medical treatment on board vessels. Retrieved 10 March 2015, from:

[49] Council Directive 1999/63/EC of 21 June 1999 concerning the Agreement on the organisation of working time of seafarers concluded by the European Community Shipowners' Association (ECSA) and the Federation of Transport Workers' Unions in the European Union (FST) - Annex: European Agreement on the organisation of working time of seafarers. Retrieved 10 March 2015, from:

[50] Directive 2009/16/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 April 2009 on port State control (Text with EEA relevance). Retrieved 10 March 2015, from:

[51] Directive 2012/35/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 November 2012 amending Directive 2008/106/EC on the minimum level of training of seafarers Text with EEA relevance. Retrieved 10 March 2015, from:

[52] Directive 2000/34/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 June 2000 amending Council Directive 93/104/EC concerning certain aspects of the organisation of working time to cover sectors and activities excluded from that Directive. Retrieved 10 March 2015, from:

[53] International Labour Organisation ILO (2012), ''MLC - Maritime Labour Convention'', 2006 (MLC, 2006). Retrieved 10. March 2015, from :

[54] Maritime Sources (2015). Working conditions for seafarers. Retrieved 10 March 2015, from:

[55] International Labour Office - ILO, ''Safety and health in dock work''. Revised edition. Code of practice, 1977. Available at:

[56] Oldenburg,M., Baur,X., and Schlaich,C., 'Occupational risks and challenges of seafaring', ''Journal of Occupational Health'' No. 52, 2010, pp. 249-256.

[57] Seahealth Denmark, ''Mooring – do it safely'', Danish Maritime Authority and the Danish Shipowners’ Association, 2013. Available at:

[58] Seahealth, 'Preventing Social Isolation', ''toolkit'' No. 4, no date, pp. 91-94 Available at:

[59] UK P&I CLUB, ''Risk focus: slips, trips and falls'', no date. Available at:

[60] International Labour Office –ILO, ''Accident prevention on board ship at sea and in port'', Code of practice, 1996, pp. 1-150. Available at:

[61] European Commission, ''European Manual for Hygiene Standards and Communicable Diseases Surveillance on Passenger'', EU SHIPSAN TRAINET Programm, 2011, pp. 1 – 257. Retrieved 12 March 2015, from:

[62] International Labour Office –ILO, Accident prevention on board ship at sea and in port, Code of practice, 1996, pp. 1-150. Available at:

[63] ITF Seafarers (2015). Retrieved 6 March 2015, from:

[64] Spencer, C., ''A master guide to: Enclosed Space Entry'', The Standard P&I Club, 2012, pp. 1-60. Available at:

[65] Health and Safety Executive HSE, A quick guide to health and safety in ports, no date. Available at:

[66] European Commission, European Manual for Hygiene Standards and Communicable Diseases Surveillance on Passenger, EU SHIPSAN TRAINET Programm, 2011, pp. 1 – 257. Retrieved 12 March 2015, from:

[67] EU-OSHA - European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (2015). OiRA Tools. Retrieved 22 February 2015, from:

Further reading

CIPA International Committee for the Prevention of Work Accidents in Inland Navigation (no date). Retrieved 23 February 2015, from:

EMSA - European Maritime Safety (2014). Retrieved 3 March 2015, from:

European Commission (2014). Maritime affair. Retrieved 25 February 2015, from:

European Parlament, Social and Working Conditions in the Transport Sector of the European Union, Directorate General for Internal Policies, Policy Department B: Structural and Cohesion Policies Transport and Tourism, 2009. Available at:

ITF Seafarers - International Transport Workers' Federation, Guidance about the Health and Safety on Board Ships, ILO, MLC and ITF Guidance on Health and Safety, no date. Available at:

Luxemburg Maritime Administration (no date). European Legislation. Retrieved 23 February 2015, from:

Mouchtouri, A., Nichols, G., 'European Union SHIPSAN ACT Joint Action: Preparedness for the response to Ebola virus disease in the maritime transport sector', Eurosurveillance, Volume 20, Issue 1, 08 January 2015. Available at:

Port Skills and Safety. Safety in Ports (2014). Retrieved 3 March 2015, from:

Seahealth (2015). Retrieved 10 March 2015, from:

Seahealth, Drinking water on board ships - A guidance about how to provide clean drinking water, 2013. Available at:

Waterborne (2014). Retrieved 23 February 2015, from:

Zukunft Mobilität (no date). Retrieved 3 March 2015, from:

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Ellen Schmitz-Felten