Shipyard work safety —

Where to find what you need to know

September 13, 2005
By: Vicki Bell

Shipyard work is among the most hazardous occupations. Researching possible dangers and following standards and recommended guidelines can reduce injuries and illnesses and prevent OSHA fines.

Shipyard work
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With an accident and illness rate more than twice that of general construction and industry, shipyard work is among the most hazardous occupations. The sector is under close scrutiny because the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has targeted industries with higher-than-average rates in its strategic plan to reduce injuries and illnesses and prevent fatalities.

Various OSHA standardscover shipyard employment. Portions of the original, comprehensive standard published in 1993 were revised in later years.

Apparently, two Louisiana shipyards fined in July failed to adhere to OSHA standards. Company No. 1, which received $65,000 in fines, was cited for serious violations—those that could cause death or serious physical harm to the employees and the employer knew or should have known about the hazard—including failure to require an employee to wear a seat belt while operating a rough-terrain forklift, test the atmosphere of an enclosed space before employees enter, guard openings in the hull and on the barge deck, test and certify a crane, keep fire response equipment in a state of readiness, guard machines, and cover a high-voltage panel.

This company also was issued repeat citations for failing to guard the edge of a deck, platform, or flat and failing to provide safe access to a barge. Other-than-serious violations included failure to affix identification tags on steel slings, provide strain relief on an electrical connection, protect flexible cords and cables from accidental damage, and develop and implement a written fire safety plan. An other-than-serious violation is a hazard that probably would not cause death or serious physical harm but would have a direct and immediate relationship to the employees' safety and health.

Company No. 2's serious violations, which led to $45,300 in fines, were failing to guard machinery, train employees who enter confined spaces, provide safer access to vessels, develop and implement a fire safety plan, improper storage around electrical equipment, improperly securing a ladder, and operating a forklift with a safety defect.

Repeat citations were issued for allowing hot work without the required testing and certification of the workspace by a marine chemist and failing to guard deck and platform edges.

Other-than-serious citations were issued for failing to separate fuel and oxygen cylinders, not covering electrical boxes, failing to perform a personal protective equipment hazard assessment, and no respirator and hazardous communications programs.

Commenting on these fines, Greg Honaker, OSHA area director, said, "There are more than 90 shipbuilding facilities in Louisiana. OSHA will be looking [at these sites] for excessive noise levels; confined-space entry hazards; fall and electrical hazards; exposure to airborne contaminants, such as cadmium, nickel, chromium, zinc, and iron metal fumes; and other violations."

Clearly, shipyard employers must acquaint themselves with and follow OSHA-mandated standards, both to ensure their workers' safety and to avoid costly OSHA fines.

Figure 1
OSHA Ship Repair Safety E-tool Topics
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OSHA also offers an e-toolthat specifically addresses ship repair (Figure 1). According to OSHA, ship repairs are some of the most hazardous shipyard operations. Ship repair includes altering, converting, installing, cleaning, painting, and maintaining, and it may be conducted at the shipyard facility or at another location. Hazards include exposure to toxic substances, hazardous atmospheres, electrocution, falls, fires, and explosions. These hazards can be eliminated or minimized through use of an effective safety and health program.

Among the topics covered in the e-tool are:

  • Access (including Guarding Working Surfaces)
  • Cleaning and Other Cold Work
  • Confined or Enclosed Spaces and Other Dangerous Atmospheres
  • Electrical Circuits and Circuit Boards
  • General Working Conditions
  • Hot Work
  • Ladders
  • Machinery and Piping Systems
  • Materials Handling (including Gear and Equipment for Rigging)
  • Pressure Vessels, Drums, and Containers
  • Painting and Other Coating
  • Personal Protective Equipment
  • Scaffolding (Staging)
  • Surface Preparation
  • Tools

The e-tool defines each of these hazards and presents protective measures.

NIOSH Shipyard Study

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has conducted studies of shipyards to document and evaluate effective control techniques for potential health hazards, including ergonomic concerns. One study surveyed the Puget Sound Naval Shipyardin Bremerton, Wash., in 1999. This study identified and analyzed specific job tasks for ergonomic concerns, including the drydock sorting pad operation.

Examining the operation, researchers found that as surface vessels and submarines were being dismantled, hundreds of bins of scrap metal were generated. Each bin measured approximately 5 feet by 3 ft. y 3 ft. The bins held a variety of material: stainless steel, painted steel, unpainted steel, aluminum, and other metal components. Bins were filled during the "cut and carry" dismantling process for each vessel within the drydock. They then were moved from the vessels to the sorting pad area by forklifts. The sorting pad was surrounded by large shipping containers (approximately 5 ft. by 20 ft.), each for a specific type of metal.

The sorting pad worker removed the individual pieces of metal from the scrap bin by hand, determined the type of metal, and then carried the item to the appropriate shipping container. The worker then placed or threw the item into the shipping container and returned to the scrap bin for the next item. Each bin took approximately 20 minutes to empty and sort. Individual items weighed anywhere from a few ounces for metal strapping to in excess of 50 pounds for triple valve assemblies.

The sorting pad worker often reached far across or deep into the bin while grasping objects of unknown weight. Awkward postures of the back and neck, such as extreme lumbar flexion and neck extension, were fairly common. Shoulder, neck, and back strain were possible. Heavier items placed even more physiological strain on the worker.

The study concluded with suggestions to reduce ergonomic injuries from the drydock sorting pad operation and the other analyzed activities. Additional NIOSH shipyard hazard studies can be found by going to typing shipyard hazardsin the search box.

Researching shipyard work hazards and taking appropriate actions to prevent them can ensure workers' safety, lower injury and illness rates and associated health care costs, and help avoid OSHA fines.

Vicki Bell

Vicki Bell

FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-227-8209