Consultation on new safety rules for enclosed spaces on board vessels

Published: 24/05/2021

New rules which would tighten up safety for those who have to work in enclosed spaces on board vessels are being consulted on by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

Six people have died over a ten-year period from 2009 to 2019 in UK ports while working in such spaces, which has led to this legislation being introduced. Although it is accepted that this is a necessary but dangerous part of working on ships, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency says it’s important for these risks to be reduced significantly.

Although going beyond the application of the current International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), given the serious risk to seafarers’ health and safety, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency wants to extend the new measures to all merchant ships and fishing vessels operating in UK waters.

The proposed changes would replace previous legislation to strengthen protection of those working on ships and fishing vessels from the risks of entry into enclosed spaces through such measures as emergency drills and providing atmosphere testing equipment.

Enclosed spaces include chain lockers, cargo holds, duct keels and water tanks – or any area that has been left closed for any length of time without ventilation.

Katy Ware, Director of Maritime Service said: “We remain committed to protecting the safety of those who spend their lives working at sea. There is a serious risk to seafarers’ health and safety by going into these enclosed spaces, even though it is sometimes a necessary part of their work and we want to do all we can to reduce it.

“The risks from working in enclosed spaces are well known across the shipping world and all of us know that more needs to be done to reduce the number of fatalities. These proposed regulations would replace and extend current legislation which will go right across the merchant sector and demand the same safety requirements for fishing vessels.”

The consultation on draft legislation will last eight weeks.

Background The draft Regulations have used the civil penalty of detention for a breach of the Regulations. Prohibition and improvement notices are also available directly under the Merchant Shipping Act 1995. The general policy approach, in line with the MCA’s published enforcement policy, is to use these civil sanctions whenever possible before using criminal offences.

Failure to comply with these Regulations can lead to multiple fatalities so we consider that there is a compelling need for criminal sanctions to be available, to provide a strong deterrent and an appropriate penalty for any breach. Each of the offences and penalties included in the proposed Regulations reflects an equivalent offence or penalty included in the Merchant Shipping (Entry into Dangerous Spaces) Regulations 1988.

To view the consultation, please click here