New safety legislation for those working onboard ships

Anyone working onboard ships or boats will be better protected from May this year as new legislation comes into force.

The new safety rules for enclosed spaces onboard vessels aim to tighten up safety and are aimed at those who work in enclosed spaces onboard vessels.

The updated legislation goes further than current legislation under international maritime law and it forms part of a wider commitment by the UK to seafarer welfare.

Enclosed spaces include chain lockers, cargo holds, duct keels, and water tanks. Or any other closed area without ventilation.


Six people died from 2009 to 2019 in UK ports while working in confined spaces.

Working in enclosed spaces is often a necessary part of working on ships but the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) wants to reduce the risks for those involved.

The Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) investigates marine accidents on board UK vessels worldwide.

It lists all current investigations involving seafarers. Its most recent investigation involved a double fatality. Onboard, a motor cruiser berthed at Hamble, England on January 12th.

In addition, on December 13th, there was a collision. Between the UK registered general cargo vessel Scot Carrier and the Danish registered construction vessel Karin Høj. It happened off the coast of Sweden, resulting in two fatalities.

MAIB is currently investigating a further 21 incidents which took place in 2021 but not all of these involve enclosed spaces.


The new changes will replace previous legislation. It requires ships to protect workers from the risks of entry into enclosed spaces. Through regular safety drills and supplying atmosphere testing equipment.

In addition, the MCA has also extended the new measures to a wider range of vessels. These go above those covered by the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS).

Fishing vessels will also now need safe systems of work for enclosed space entry.

Vessels under SOLAS need to follow the new legislation from the 14th of May 2022. For all others, it will apply from 14th May 2023. As a result, this gives vessels time to introduce changes and become compliant.

Katy Ware, Director of Maritime Services 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 the risks.

“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 regulations will replace and extend current legislation which will go right across the merchant sector.”


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