With over 70% of the Earth surface being covered in water it’s no wonder humans have put considerable time and effort into developing marine based technologies, infrastructure and innovations. This includes shipbuilding, port construction, offshore oil and gas exploration, land reclamation, and underwater construction.
In many circumstances, marine projects are critical for the development of commercial endeavours in various sectors, including energy, tourism, fishing, transportation, communications and trade. However, these projects are not without risks, especially given the challenging and often unpredictable nature of marine environments.
To ensure the safety of personnel, protect the environment, and safeguard financial investments, comprehensive safety measures are of significant importance. Here is an overview of some of the measures that can be taken to mitigate safety risks during marine based projects.
Thorough Risk Assessment
Before embarking on any marine project, a thorough risk assessment should be conducted by an experienced professional or organisation. They should possess the necessary qualifications to make the assessment, have experience in the field and meet any requirements imposed by the relevant authorities.
The assessment should examine various aspects of the project including the location, historical weather conditions, risk of natural disaster, potential hazards in the region, and the expertise of the workforce that will be involved in constructing, operating and maintaining the project.
Through the risk assessment process, potential safety issues can be identified and addressed. This may be done through the implementation of target safety measures, a change in design or additional training being given to staff.
Safety Training and Certification
All personnel involved in marine projects, from seafarers to engineers and contractors, should undergo proper safety training and hold relevant certifications. The marine environment presents unique challenges, and individuals must be prepared to handle them.
Site inductions are a key method for introducing new staff to the occupational health and safety rules, and emergency procedures on a project site. Participating in an induction is often compulsory, as it is recognised that it’s unsafe for employees to begin work without the information provided.
Regardless of the industry, it is essential that workers are trained to use equipment correctly and safely. Staff involved in the marine project should have the necessary skills, training and qualifications to complete the duties they are charged with.
First aid training
Having staff that have completed a first aid certification helps to ensure an effective response in the event of a medical emergency. Basic first aid courses may only address essential skills such as CPR, while industry specific courses can address what to do in the event of some of the more common injuries that occur in that field, for example how to deal with a suspected drowning or hypothermia when working at sea.
Emergency response training
One of the key ways to help prevent the loss of life, limb and infrastructure during an emergency situation is training and practice. This training could be more generalised, such as how to put out a lithium or electrical fire. Alternatively, it could be situation specific. An example of this is the offshore emergency and helicopter underwater courses which are required for many oil rig workers.
Equipment Maintenance and Inspection
Regular maintenance and inspection of marine equipment is essential, as thorough inspections can help staff identify and rectify issues before they lead to accidents. It is particularly important in oceanic environments where the salt water can lead to the premature degradation of components.
Vessels and heavy machinery should have inspection schedules and routine maintenance that are clearly defined and well documented. Safety devices should be checked and tested at regular intervals, and equipment should be maintained and operated as per the manufacturers specifications.
Safety Equipment and Personal Protective Gear
Providing appropriate safety equipment and personal protective gear is crucial, especially in an industrial context where an accident could cost someone their health or life. Staff should always wear the appropriate attire for their tasks and ensure it is properly maintained.
In a marine environment, personal protective equipment could include safety glasses, hard hats, steel capped boots and full length clothing. Depending on the location of the project, additional gear such as life jackets, drysuits, liferafts and lifeboats, Epirbs or personal man overboard devices may also be necessary.
Emergency Response Plans
Developing and practising emergency response plans is another vital safety measure for marine projects. These plans should include procedures for evacuations, fire drills, medical emergencies, and spill containment. It should be made clear what the hierarchy of responsibility is, where the emergency evacuation meet points are, where emergency equipment is kept, what areas of the site should be avoided and who needs to complete specific tasks, for example administering first aid or notifying emergency services.
Regular drills and simulations can help to ensure that personnel are well-prepared to respond effectively in the event of an emergency.
Marine projects often take place in sensitive ecosystems so environmental protection measures are essential to prevent harm to marine life. These measures may include the use of environmentally friendly materials, the implementation of spill response plans, and adherence to local environmental regulations.
As well as being the right thing to do, environmental protection is also something that is governed by international conventions. These are some of the key conventions currently in place.
- Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter (1972)
- International Convention on Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Co-operation (1990)
- London Protocol (1996)
- Protocol on Preparedness, Response and Co-operation to pollution Incidents by Hazardous and Noxious Substances (2000)
Weather Monitoring and Forecasting
Weather conditions can change rapidly at sea, therefore real-time weather monitoring and accurate forecasting is crucial for safety. Projects should have access to reliable weather information and the ability to adapt operations as needed to ensure the safety of personnel and equipment.
Internationally, two of the most well regarded weather forecasting models are the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecast (ECMWF) model and the Global Forecast System (GFS) model.
ECMWF is the main weather model used in Europe. The organisation behind it is an intergovernmental agency supported by over 30 European countries, that has offices in the UK, Italy, and Germany. The GFS model is the main weather model used in North America and is backed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), headquartered in Washington, DC. Data analysis shows that ECMWF has historically been slightly more accurate than the GFS model, but many choose to refer to both models, comparing the similarities and differences.
Effective communication between personnel, vessels, and onshore operations is vital in facilitating the coordination and safety of a marine project. Modern devices can bridge communication gaps in remote or offshore locations, where there isn’t any mobile phone reception. For shorter distances VHF radio can be used, while long range communications may require the use of a satellite phone, for example Iridium Go, or satellite internet system, such as Starlink.
Fostering a workplace culture that values safety is perhaps the most important precaution that can be taken during any marine project; it doesn’t matter how many protocols and procedures are in place if people aren’t following them. Developing this type of culture starts with leadership setting a strong example which then trickles down to all personnel. Encouraging the reporting of safety concerns, near misses, and incidents helps management identify areas for improvement and reinforces that there is a commitment to safety.
All marine projects must adhere to the local, national, and international safety regulations and standards. These regulations are in place to ensure the safety of workers, protect the environment, and prevent accidents. Compliance is non-negotiable and can result in significant fines or shutdowns.
At the local and national level there are generally bodies that are responsible for overseeing and investigating workplace safety. For example, in Sydney, Australia, workplace safety is overseen at a local level by SafeWork New South Wales and national level by Safe Work Australia. On an international level, occupational safety and health is part of the Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work (1998), developed by the International Labour Organisation and last amended in 2022.
Safety measures in marine projects are essential to mitigate risks, protect personnel, and preserve the marine environment. A combination of thorough planning, proper training, maintenance, and adherence to safety regulations can help ensure that these projects are conducted smoothly and without compromising safety. Investing in safety is not just a legal requirement; it’s a moral obligation that benefits everyone involved.