The process of dismantling a ship is far from a safe one. In fact, over the past few years, there have been multiple examples of death and injuries resulting from shipbreaking work.
Shipbreaking is a process in which a large ship is demolished and broken down. Some of the parts will be disposed of; others will be recycled. Rust and corrosion are typical causes for ship dismantling. These usually occur within 20 to 30 years of operational time.
The Dangers of Shipbreaking
It’s easy to see how the process of dismantling a gigantic ship could be linked to an array of dangers.
The first and broadest category of risks is hazardous exposure. Asbestos could be found in many parts of the ship like insulation, mastic under insulation, hanger liners, gaskets on piping connections and valve packing.
Exposure to lead, PCBs and hazardous chemicals are also possible. Batteries, generators, motor components and lead ballast could all be sources of lead. As far as PCBs go, these could be found in rubber hoses, plastic insulation, and paint. Hazardous chemical exposure could be the result of working with mercury in lighting tubes, self-contained refrigeration devices, paint coatings and electrical switches.
Workers that dismantle ships also face the risk of fire, injuries during cutting and welding, electrical accidents, oil and fuel removal dangers, heavy machinery operation, water removal, work on elevated surfaces and metal disposal.
The Importance of Safe Working Practices
Because shipbreaking has so many components, each one coming with its dangers, following safety procedures will be of paramount importance. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has various guidelines that could potentially reduce the shipbreaking accident risk.
Proper training and the provision of the right safety gear rank among the biggest essentials. Correct material handling will also reduce the risk when working with dangerous substances. A few other very important safe work practices during shipbreaking include the following:
- Doing emergency response drills
- Making sure that qualified medical workers are on site to offer emergency assistance
- Ensuring effective communication between workers
- Going through vessel surveys prior to the beginning of the shipbreaking process
- Removing dangerous liquids, chemicals, and fire hazards before the start of dismantling
- Ensuring sufficient fall protection through the use of safety harnesses, keeping life lines clear from sharp edges and placing barriers against deck edges
- Providing washing and sanitation facilities
Shipbreaking Accidents are Common
A dangerous process, shipbreaking is often outsourced to countries like China, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. Many of the safety precautions are ignored there, which contributes to serious accidents and the death of workers.
At the end of 2016, a shipbreaking accident in Pakistan caused the death of 11 workers and left 59 injured. A gas cylinder explosion caused a fire inside an oil tanker. As a result, 11 people were killed on the spot, and the others suffered severe burn wounds.
Another incredibly serious accident has occurred in Pakistan, as well, causing the death of 17 shipbreaking workers. Once again, a series of explosions occurred on an oil tanker that had to be dismantled. The fire burned for a couple of days, injuring at least 58 workers.
The Rights of Workers
Individuals working in ship dismantling facilities aren’t considered sailors, and as such, they’re not protected by statutes like the Jones Act.
Whenever workers are injured as a result of employer negligence, poorly functioning equipment or the lack of safety gear, they have the right to sue and demand financial compensation.