Center for Asbestos Safety

Shipyard safety

The shipyard work environment can often be very complex, including work on every kind of vessel from small fishing vessels to military vehicles. Each ship may have less than 100 to 5,000 people working on it. The work itself can often potentially be very dangerous, and workers are often exposed to hazardous weather conditions. It is for these reasons and more that OSHA has prepared guidelines for shipyard safety.

Those in shipyards may work on many types of ships, including small fishing vessels, cargo carriers, tankers, barges, and military ships. The work may involve demolition, electrical work, maintenance, new ship construction, and repair. The work can include fabrication and forming of large steel plates, beams, and pipes, sheet metal work, electrical work, painting and coating, work on propulsion systems, and numerous other tasks. Welding may also be involved. This involves grinding and chipping of welds. Workers often work outdoors and are exposed to harsh weather.

A shipyard may have between 100 and 5,000 people working in it, depending on whether it is small or large, and often involves work in the ship, yard, or shop. Fabrication is like manufacturing work.

The work can lead to numbness tingling, pain, restricted joint movement, soft tissue swelling, and recurring shoulder pain (rotor cuff tendonitis). Shipyard workers often have strains and sprains in their lower back, and hand-arm vibration syndrome, for those use vibrating tools.

Causes for these physical problems can be intensive work, static body positions for long times, genetic causes, age, gender, and cold temperatures. Intensive work done outside the work environment may contribute to the injuries as well.

OSHA has visited shipyards that has implemented solutions to these problems and achieved success in reducing such injuries, helping to make the workplace safer.

A Process for Protecting Employees

OSHA has found the number of injuries and their severity, from overexertion, and financial costs, at shipyards may be reduced substantially. OSHA suggests employers systematically address ergonomic issues in the workplace in their individual safety and health programs.

OSHA suggests employers consider the general steps recommended by OHSA in their ergonomic program, but it is recognized each shipyard will have different needs and limitations. Different programs and activities may be implemented, and employees from many departments may help provide for workplace safety at a shipyard.

To be successful, any ergonomic program must have strong management backing. OSHA suggests shipyards have clear goals and objectives for such a program, discuss them with employees, assign duties to designated employees to reach the goals, and give feedback to employees. For a program to succeed there must be sustained effort, coordinated activities, and necessary resources available.

The ergonomics program at many shipyards has also involved "lean manufacturing," and "Five S" strategies that focus on providing the right material, at the right time, to the right place, in the proper manner. This has helped eliminate "wasted walking," or "wasted motion," to retrieve parts. Ergonomics fits well with these strategies. Such things as wasted walking and wasted motion can diminish work performance and increase injuries.

Implementing Solutions

Ergonomics solutions for shipyards includes changes to equipment, work practices, and procedures that address risk factors, help control costs, and reduce employee turnover. Changes can also increase employee productivity and efficiency, as unnecessary movements and heavy manual labor are reduced. OSHA suggests employers use engineering controls, when feasible, in dealing with ergonomics. The first set of solutions is applicable in most or all areas of the shipyard.

Recommended solutions have already been implemented in some shipyards. These solutions will not cover all ergonomic factors shipyards face. These solutions are not applicable to each and every shipyard. Implementing ergonomic solutions may present challenges to shipyards. There may be increased work in cramped areas or outdoors. Shipyard personnel are encouraged to use these examples, however. From them, develop innovative solutions to the ergonomic problems in your shipyard. Solutions are categorized according to the jobs in which they are most often performed: site-wide, material equipment or handling, tools, metal work, shipside, and Personal Protection Safety Equipment.

Center for Asbestos
Safety in the Workplace