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Health hazards for personnel working in a dusty condition onboard Bulk Carriers

Bulk cargoes create a lot of dust during loading and discharging. Cargoes particularly liable to cause a dust hazard include grains, ores, coal, fishmeal and some fertilisers. The dust usually constitutes small particles of the cargo itself, but may also contain contaminants such as bacteria or fungus, particularly in grain cargoes.



The quantity of dust given off depends upon the handling. Suitably designed conveyor belts can reduce the dust levels but, if the same conveyor belt then drops the cargo into the hold from a great height, a large amount of dust is generated.

Dust causes allergies (sensitisation) such as skin rashes or nose and eye irritation. Continuous exposure may cause permanent disability or illness such as chronic bronchitis.

The IMSBC Code should be checked for particular hazards associated with any specific cargo. As a general rule, any dust is considered a health hazard if:

  1. It is generated from a cargo classified as toxic, harmful, corrosive or irritant
  2. it contains contaminants in the form of bacteria or fungi
  3. it has an occupational exposure limit, ie it is either:
With regard to exposure to dust or other harmful gases or fumes, the following limits should be taken into account:

Maximum Exposure Limit (MEL)

The maximum concentration of dust an employee can be exposed to for 8 hours a day, 40 hours a week without any harm to health. MEL is used only for those substances where overexposure causes minor effects such as irritation

Threshold Limit Value (TLV)

The maximum permitted concentration of a substance a person may be exposed to for a period of 8 hours a day, 40 hours a week without any harm to health. This is referred to as the Time Weighted Average (TWA). Other TLVs are often quoted, ie: TLV is used for all substances that give off fumes liable to cause a health hazard in high concentrations. Note that the time period or concentration of substances specified may vary from country to country. However, these limits are enforced by law and are binding on all employers.

Occupational Exposure Standard (OES)

The concentration of dust an employee can be exposed to for an indefinite period of time without any harm to health.

It is the duty of the shipper to inform the Master of any hazards prior to loading the cargo. Shipboard personnel must have all necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) for working in a hazardous environment. In all cases, to avoid harm to personnel, the MEL (or TLV) should never be exceeded.

A number of bulk cargoes such as quartz, iron ore, pig iron and steel scrap contain sizeable lumps which can cause injury or death if they fall from a height and strike a person below. From time to time and frequently in some cases, lumps of cargo will fall from the conveyor belt of the shiploader or from the discharging grab on to the deck of the ship or the quay alongside. Such spillage should be regularly cleared to maintain a safe access route along the deck.

For experienced seafarers and stevedores it becomes second nature to avoid standing below the conveyor or the path of the grab, and this is a rule which should be firmly enforced upon any inexperienced people who have occasion to be in the vicinity of a bulk carrier when bulk cargoes are being loaded or discharged.

It is good practice to forbid entry to the working side of the main deck except to those who have necessary work to do in that area. Those required to be on deck during the working of cargo should wear high visibility clothing, hard hats and industrial footwear.

Many bulk cargoes are dusty and some extremely so. The effects of breathing dust can never be beneficial and are probably harmful in some cases at least. Where possible it is always best to avoid exposure to cargo dust and employers and their representatives have a duty to minimise dust.

Our detail pages illustrated many safety aspects of Bulk carrier

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  16. Operation of sea going bulk carriers involved numerous hazards . Careful planning and exercising due caution for all critical shipboard matters are important . This site is a quick reference to international shipping community with guidance and information on the loading and discharging of modern bulk carriers so as to remain within the limitations as specified by the classification society.
    It is vital to reduce the likelihood of over-stressing the ship's structure and also complying with all essential safety measures for a safe passage at sea. Our detail pages contain various bulk carrier related topics that might be useful for people working on board and those who working ashore in the terminal. For any remarks please Contact us

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