Working on the Water – Key Risks and How to Stay Safe with Gas Monitoring

Working on the Water – Key Risks and How to Stay Safe with Gas Monitoring

The maritime industry is a vital segment to today’s supply chain. Encompassing shipping, navigation through the world’s waterways and marine engineering, workers in this sector are key to ensuring our essential goods reach their intended destination. In the U.S., close to 650,000 people are employed in the maritime industry, and it contributes $154+ billion to yearly economic growth.1 Across the globe, it is estimated that 80% of trade is conducted using sea freight.2

A risky yet essential occupation

The type of vessel involved, whether a barge, container ship, bulk cargo ship or vessel transporting people—such as a cruise ship or ferry—influences the type of risks workers encounter when on the water. From 2011 to 2017, U.S. marine transportation workers reported approximately 11,000 occupational injuries, and the rate of fatalities for this sector was close to six times the fatality rate of all U.S. workers.3

Some of the major risks these workers encounter include exposure to ultraviolet light, heavy lifting and injuries during line handling when docking or undocking. Slippery surfaces can lead to falls, and climbing steep ladders and making repairs in confined spaces can lead to a number of hazards. Depending on the type of cargo, chemical exposure and fire risk can also be concerns.

On top of these physical risks, other psychosocial elements—like social isolation for long periods, circadian rhythm disruption from unusual sleep schedules and substance abuse—can all play a part in the overall wellness of seafarers.4

Spotlight on gas and flammability risks

Gas leaks and fires may not seem like the most obvious risks while on the water, but they are top-of-mind for this industry. Allianz, one of the world's largest insurers based in Europe, conducts a Risk Barometer corporate risk survey each year that encompasses input from experts in more than 90 countries. Their 2022 survey found that fires and explosions on board vessels were rated in the top three risks for stakeholders in the marine and shipping industry. Allianz’s analysis of 240,000+ insurance claims for maritime companies between 2017 and 2021 showed that fires and explosions were the most expensive cause of loss, accounting for $10 billion in total value.5

So what can cause a fire or explosion on a marine vessel? Ships often are carrying petroleum, various chemicals and items such as batteries. If any type of combustible material interacts with the wrong type of chemical, it can lead to an explosion. If a container ship, for example, is carrying hazardous cargo in some of its containers, and the cargo is not properly declared, it might then be packed and stowed incorrectly, which increases the risk of an ignition.6 The large amount of air inside cargo decks means the fire has ample oxygen to spread, causing it to release heat and generate gases, embers and smoke.

In addition to fire risk, workers can be exposed to toxic gasses, either from the ship’s cargo or from operations required to keep the ship running. For example, petroleum products emit hydrogen sulfide (H2S) and volatile organic compounds. H2S exposure can cause respiratory problems, convulsions, headache, dizziness, insomnia and upset stomachs.7 Some vessels also use exhaust insulation blankets; while these blankets can prevent burns from hot equipment and minimize noise, they can also lead to high levels of carbon monoxide.8

Increasing worker and vessel safety

Despite these risks, there are many precautions workers and employers can take to enhance safety aboard a marine vessel. Proper training is one of the biggest elements to safety – both training on how to properly operate equipment to perform the job functions and safety-specific training. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires maritime industry employers to provide safety training and educate workers about job-specific hazards.

Another key element to safety is having proper gas detection technology. Gas detectors can provide real-time readings on the levels of multiple hazardous gasses in the air and show gas reading trends over time to warn workers of a potentially dangerous gas concentration increase. This is particularly important when entering a confined space on a ship to make repairs. Some gas detection technology uses ultrasonic sound pressure levels to help identify gas leak from a pressurized system when the gas is invisible to the naked eye so that workers can take action before an incident occurs.

Learn more

These are just a few of the benefits of using the latest gas detection technology to help safeguard both workers and property. To learn more about the top gas detection challenges and solutions in the marine sector, read more from Honeywell.