Safeguarding seafarers: PPE remains critical

Tuesday, 11 February, 2020

Safeguarding seafarers: PPE remains critical

Seafarers are among the most at-risk in the working population for injury and death. A research team — that included an academic from Australia’s RMIT University — investigated the causes of seafarer injury and accident and has concluded that injury reduction campaigns focused on personal protective equipment (PPE) could hold the key to reducing incidents of injury at sea. The study included a survey of 354 seafarers from Singapore, China, South Korea and Vietnam, selected due to their high representation in the global seafaring market. The survey was designed to test the following potential risk factors: accident feedback loop, adequate rest, age, change of ship, defective equipment/tools, distraction, experience, familiarity, housekeeping, injury during latest tour, job risk assessment, job risk awareness, maintenance, nationality, position, PPE availability, PPE training, PPE usage, procedure design, reasons for not using PPE, risk communication, sex, shore visit frequency, shortcut, ship type, time in position, tour duration and training.


The greatest risk factors identified were age, PPE availability, risk awareness and sea experience. The researchers concluded that PPE-focused injury reduction campaigns are a seafarer’s greatest defence against injury. This was support by the data, in which PPE availability emerged as having the greatest potential to decrease injury probability. Further, of those surveyed 4% reported not having received adequate PPE training, with the injury rate among this group being as high as 33%. Additionally, the researchers point out that the ‘risk awareness’ factor could be improved via training and an ‘accident feedback loop’; despite this, 18% of those surveyed reported that the crew did not always have accident lessons shared with them by the company that employed them. As per the severity of the problem, the survey results revealed that 14% of seafarers surveyed had experienced at least one injury during their last tour of duty.


It is suggested that given the issue of PPE availability within the working population surveyed, management in that sector should: focus on improving supply and stock of appropriate PPE aboard vessels; undertake periodic reviews of PPE need for each task with appropriate follow-up and introduction of appropriate PPE; view training of PPE use as just as important as the supply of the equipment itself, and therefore develop relevant training programs; and improve risk awareness by making it common practice to share common injuries and communicate risk assessment results with crew, and to post appropriate warning signs where potential hazards exist. The researchers also note that in cases where PPE was readily available, respondents identified the equipment’s ‘impact on efficiency’ as the number one factor in hindering its use. To address this, the researchers suggest that management focus on improving its workplace culture around the importance of PPE usage and address the concerns of users during the selection of PPE.

“Shipping is the lifeblood of world trade and its viability depends on the key workforce — seafarers, who are competent and have their occupational health and safety assured at work,” Associate Professor Vinh Thai from RMIT University said. “This research reveals key findings related to factors that have been shown to have the greatest potential to decrease injury probability of seafarers — the key element in the eco-system that contributes to IMO’s [International Maritime Organization] goal of ‘Safe, secure and efficient shipping on clean oceans’.”

The study, titled ‘Quantitative risk assessment of seafarers’ nonfatal injuries due to occupational accidents based on Bayesian Network modeling’, was published in January 2020 in an ‘Engineering systems and risk analytics’ special issue of the academic journal Risk Analysis.

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