Shipbreaking >> Common Hazards

The following safety and health information for Shipbreaking Operations should be reviewed. Additional requirements may apply. For these requirements see Shipyard Employment.

Figure 1: Improper practice - Worker covered with flammable oil

Potential Hazards

Figure 2: Warning Sign is posted to alert workers of the fire and explosion hazard of painting

Fire and explosions may be caused by

  • Flammable and combustible cleaning solvents such as Methyl Ethyl Ketone (MEK), mineral spirits, and diesel fuel or oil.
  • Liquids with high flash points (greater than 100º F) may present a fire or explosion hazard when applied as a fine mist.
  • Liquids with a low flash point (less than 100º F) pose hazards when used.
  • Airborne particulate or dust.
  • Hydrogen gas generated during cleaning processes such as acid washes.
  • Reactive cargos such as iron-ore, fertilizer, or incompatible chemicals.
Figure 3: Ventilation equipment used to maintain safe conditions for entry

Requirements and Example Solutions

  • Hot work must not be performed in the space and/or adjacent spaces when flammable or combustible cleaning solvents are being used. [29 CFR 1915 Subpart P]
  • Figure 4: Worker testing space to see that safe conditions are maintained during cleaning
    Equipment which may generate static electricity, must be grounded/bonded when used to ventilate flammable atmospheres. [29 CFR 1915.13(b)(11)].
  • Explosion-proof lights must be used if flammable atmospheres are present. [29 CFR 1915.13(b)(9)]
  • Adequate ventilation must maintain atmospheres (at less than 10 percent of the lower explosive limit (LEL)). [29 CFR 1915.13(b)(3)]
  • When mixing or cleaning-up flammable liquids, frequent tests shall be conducted to determine if air concentrations are below 10 percent of the LEL. [29 CFR 1915.15(f)]
  • The Shipyard Competent Person (SCP) must test the exhaust location to ensure that exhausted vapors do not accumulate to hazardous levels. [29 CFR 1915.13(b)(7), (b)(8), (b)(11), and (b)(12)]
  • Figure 5: Fire extinguishers located near cleaning operations
    Suitable fire fighting equipment must be immediately available and maintained for instant use. [29 CFR 1915 Subpart P]
  • Personnel using fire fighting equipment must be instructed on possible fire hazards and how to use the equipment. [29 CFR 1915 Subpart P]
  • Spills of solvents must be cleaned up immediately. [29 CFR 1915.13(b)(5)]
  • Fire hazards such as cleaning rags or solvents should be removed and properly stored.
  • Signs should be displayed around flammable liquid storage and mixing areas indicating the presence of flammable and combustible liquids, as well as signs stating no smoking or open flames.
  • Drums and containers of flammable or toxic liquids should be placed in an area where they will not be subject to physical damage and surrounded by dikes or pans.
Figure 6: Containers of cleaning materials labeled with their hazards

Potential Hazard

Toxic vapors produced by cleaning agents such as diesel fuel and trichloroethane may present significant health hazards and oxygen-deficient atmospheres. When used in confined or enclosed spaces, these agents produce vapors that are often heavier than air. This can cause displacement of air, reducing oxygen levels, which may be fatal.

Figure 7: Improper Practice - Ventilation hoses extending into confined space to ensure safe conditions

Requirements and Example Solutions

  • The Shipyard Competent Person (SCP) may require continual monitoring to determine that air concentrations are within the permissible exposure limit (PELs) and below immediately dangerous to life or health (IDLH) levels. If they are not, additional engineering controls such as ventilation, administrative controls, or PPE such as respirators must be used. [29 CFR 1915.13(b)(2)]
  • Ensure adequate ventilation to maintain air concentrations below the PEL. [29 CFR 1915.13(b)(3)]
  • Airline respirators may be necessary if ventilation is not adequate. If respirators are used,  they must comply with 29 CFR 1915.154.
  • [29 CFR 1910.134]
  • A hazard assessment shall be made to determine the proper selection of respirators. [29 CFR 1915.152(b)]
Figure 8: Worker wearing airline respirator with emergency escape air cylinder

Additional Resources

Figure 9: Worker exposed to skin and eye contact hazards from cleaners and residues

Potential Hazards

Toxic solvents, chemical removers, and flammable and combustible liquids can harm employees eyes and skin. Workers should understand the hazards associated with the materials used and contained in the space. This includes training in accordance with the Hazard Communication Standard. [29 CFR 1915.1200] Hazards may include:

  • Organ damage by absorption through the skin or eye.
  • Eye or skin irritation.
  • Defatting of skin.
Figure 10: Emergency eye wash located near cleaning operations

Requirements and Example Solutions

  • Use appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE).
  • Clean up spills or other releases of flammable, combustible, toxic, corrosive and irritant materials as work progresses. [29 CFR 1915.13(b)(5)]
  • Ensure that washing facilities are available. [29 CFR 1915.88]
Figure 11: Washing facilities for workers

Additional Information

  • Hazard Communication Guidelines for Compliance. OSHA 3111 (2000).
  • Hazard Communication. OSHA Safety and Health Topics Page.
  • When clothing becomes saturated with flammable and combustible liquids, clothing should be changed immediately.
  • Fixed or portable eye wash stations/safety showers should meet ANSI Z358.1-1998: Emergency Eye Wash and Shower Equipment.
Figure 12: Improper Practice - Confined space access hole blocked by ventilation hoses

Potential Hazards

When working in confined or enclosed spaces, egress may be blocked by:

  • Improperly located equipment.
  • Temporary ventilation ducts and hoses running through the entrance.
  • "Interference" such as the vessel's piping, ventilation ducts, and electrical wiring.

Requirements and Example Solutions

  • When employees work in confined or enclosed spaces with limited access, the access must not be blocked or impeded by ventilation ducts, hoses, or other equipment. [29 CFR 1915.76(b)(2)]
  • More than one means of access must be provided where practical. [29 CFR 1915.76(b)(1)] In shipbreaking, it is a common practice to cut additional access holes into a confined spaces.
  • Additional openings should be considered for ducts, hoses, and other equipment.
Figure 13: Improper Practice - Hoses and welding leads present tripping hazar

Potential Hazards

Workers can be exposed to slippery working surfaces and tripping hazards. This places workers at risk of:

Figure 14: Temporary lighting reduces tripping hazards
  • Slipping off oily and greasy ladders.
  • Slipping and falling on oily decks.
  • Tripping over equipment, hoses, and vessel structures.
Figure 15: Tripping hazards eliminated by raised walkway

Requirements and Example Solutions

  • Slippery conditions in walkways or in work areas should be controlled.

Fall hazards are a leading cause of shipyard fatalities.

Shipyard employees are often required to work in dangerous environments that may include fall hazards. Accidents involving elevation equipment such as ladders, scaffolds, and aerial lifts are often serious, even fatal.

Potential Hazards

Deck Openings and Edges

  • Falls from deck edges
  • Falls from deck openings
  • Falls into open holes


  • Falls from ladders
  • Falls from scaffolds

Requirements and Example Solutions

Personal Fall Protection System

  • If fall hazards are identified through the Hazard Assessment required in 29 CFR 1915.152(b), employees must be protected from falls by the use of personal fall protection equipment. [29 CFR 1915.152(a)]
  • Guardrails may be used to protect workers along deck openings or edges, in lieu of personal fall protection, even though they are not required in shipbreaking.  For guardrail specifications, see 29 CFR 1915.71(j).

Fall Protection for Scaffold Work

  • Guardrails or other appropriate fall protection must be used when working on scaffolds 5 feet above surfaces. [29 CFR 1915.71(j)]

For more detailed information, review Use of Personal Fall Protection Systems.

Figure 16: Workers in protective suits are at higher risk of heat stress

Potential Hazards

Environmental hazards include temperature, humidity, and air movement within the work area. A combination of PPE use, heat-producing equipment, work activity, and environmental conditions can cause temperature-related illnesses.

Heat-related illnesses include:

  • Heat Stress
  • Heat Stroke
  • Heat Cramps
  • Dehydration

Cold-related illnesses include

  • Hypothermia
  • Frost Bite

Additional Resources

Example Solutions

The following precautions for heat-related illnesses are recommended:

  • Plenty of fluids
  • Frequent breaks
  • Ice vest
  • Shaded or cooled break areas
  • Ventilation
  • Awareness training

The following precautions for cold-related illnesses are recommended:

  • Appropriate insulated PPE
  • Warming areas for breaks
  • Awareness training
Figure 17: Workers exposed to noise from pressure washing

Potential Hazards

Use of tools and equipment may produce high noise levels, which could lead to permanent hearing loss, and often necessitates a hearing conservation program. Some examples of excessively loud operations include:

  • Use of high-pressure water and steam guns
  • Abrasive Blasting
  • Needle Gunning
  • Scaling
  • Grinding
Figure 18: Workers wearing ear muffs for protection from excessive noise.

Requirements and Example Solutions

Additional Resources

Figure 19: Workers exposed to noise from pressure washing

Potential Hazards

The use of high-pressure equipment may expose operators and bystanders to the following hazards:

  • Contact with high-pressure steam, water, grit, or air streams from cleaning equipment.
  • Contact with uncontrolled high-pressure hoses.
Figure 20: Worker protected by PPE from high pressure hazards

Injuries associated with these hazards include

  • Loss of body parts (for example, fingers, or hands)
  • Lacerations
  • Burns
  • Loss of sight
Figure 21: Hoses and connections should be inspected

Requirements and Example Solutions

  • Use appropriate PPE. [29 CFR 1915.152
  • Control access to the area.
  • Inspect hoses and connections prior to use.
  • Use pressure equipment according to the manufacturer's recommendations.
  • Warning: Do not use oxygen for cleaning (blow-off), operation of air tools, or ventilation [29 CFR 1915.51(b)(1)(vi)].
Figure 22: Damaged electrical cable poses shock hazard

Potential Hazards

Figure 23: Portable power tools must be grounded or double insulated

All workers who work with electrical equipment in wet or damp locations have an increased risk of getting shocked or electrocuted due to:

  • Faulty electrical connection in power tools.
  • Open lighting parts.
  • Broken insulation on power cables and cords.
Figure 24: Temporary lights should be inspected before use

Requirements and Example Solutions

  • All electrical tools or equipment should undergo a visual inspection prior to use.
  • All portable electric hand tools and temporary lighting systems should utilize Ground Fault Interrupters (GFI).
  • Electrical tools and equipment should correspond with the requirements of the job.
  • Electrical equipment and tools should be used with proper circuit protection for the voltage and amperage used.
  • Only qualified electricians should attempt to repair electrical tools and equipment.
  • A Ground Assurance Program should be in place for all electrical tools and equipment used including:
    • Records of tools inspected and repaired.
    • Records of electrical boxes inspected and repaired.
    • Records of electrical extension cords inspected and repaired.
    • Recall of records of the above.
  • The requirements of the Ground Assurance Program should be performed on a regular basis.

Potential Hazards

Workers may be exposed to impact hazards from:

  • Sparks
  • Metal particles
  • Grinding debris
  • Paint debris

Injuries may include

  • Particles becoming imbedded in the skin
  • Eye damage
  • Skin burns
  • Skin trauma

Requirements and Example Solutions

  • Use PPE properly. [29 CFR 1915.152(a)]
  • Use powered equipment such as portable grinders with guards and according to the manufacturer's recommendations.