Occupational Hazard datasheet for Marine Engineers

Technical notes of interest to Marine Engineers

Ship's Engineer Occupational Hazard Datasheet

Authored by: International Labor Organization

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What is a Hazard Datasheet on Occupation?

This datasheet is one of the International Datasheets on Occupations. It is intended for those professionally concerned with health and safety at work: occupational physicians and nurses, safety engineers, hygienists, education and Information  specialists, inspectors, employers ' representatives, workers' representatives, safety officers and other competent persons.

This datasheet lists, in a standard format, different hazards to which ship-engineers (machinist) may be exposed in the course of their normal work. This datasheet is a source of information rather than advice. With the knowledge of what causes injuries and diseases, is easier to design and implement suitable measures towards prevention.


This datasheet consists of four sections:

Section 1: Information on the most relevant hazards related to the occupation.

Section 2: A more detailed and systematized presentation on the different hazards related to the job with indicators for preventive measures (marked as numbered shields and explained on the third page).

Section 3: Suggestions for preventive measures for selected hazards.

Section 4: Specialized information, relevant primarily to occupational safety and health professionals and including information such as a brief job description, a list of tasks, notes and references.


Section 1

Who is a ship-engineer (Marine Engineering Officer)?

A professional, licensed (on large vessels) mechanic (Marine Engineering Officer) who is responsible for the operation, troubleshooting, repair and maintenance of shipboard engines and other machinery such as generators, pumps, boilers, etc.

What is dangerous about this job?

A ship-machinist is exposed to all the hazards of machine attendants or of maintenance workers, e.g., entanglement in moving machinery, blows, cuts, penetration of foreign particles into eyes, exposure to exhaust gases, dermatoses caused by lubricating and cleaning formulations, etc. Those hazards, however, are exacerbated by the motion of the ship, by working and living over long periods of time in confined and constricted spaces, by personal problems caused by prolonged absences from home, and by the rigid and often depressing discipline aboard ship. When at sea, the ship's machinist is also exposed to some major accident hazards common to all seafarers, in particular shipwreck and falls into water.


Section 2

Hazards related to this job

Accident hazards

Physical hazards

Chemical hazards

Biological hazards

Ergonomic, psychosocial and organizational factors


Section 3

Preventive measures


Section 4

Specialized information


Marine-engineer; mechanic, marine engine; ship's machinist; ship's engine operator; ship's engine room attendant 

Definitions and/or description:

Supervises and coordinates activities of crew engaged in operating and maintaining propulsion engines and other engines, boilers, deck machinery, and electrical, refrigeration and sanitary equipment aboard ship: Inspects engines and other equipment and orders crew to repair or replace defective parts. Starts engines to propel ship and regulates engines and power transmission to control speed of ship. Stands engine-room watch during specified periods, observing that required water levels are maintained in boilers, condensers, and evaporators, load on generators is within acceptable limits, and oil and grease cups are kept full. Repairs machinery, using hand tools and power tools. Maintains engineering log and bell book (orders for changes in speed and direction of ship). May be required to hold appropriate license, depending upon tonnage of ship, type of engines, and means of transmitting power to propeller shaft.

When more than one ENGINEER (water trans.) is required, may be designated Engineer, Chief (water trans.); Engineer, First Assistant (water trans.); Engineer, Second Assistant (water trans.); Engineer, Third Assistant (water trans.). May be designated according to ship assigned as Barge Engineer (water trans.); Cannery-Tender Engineer (water trans.); Engineer, Fishing Vessel (water trans.); Tugboat Engineer (water trans.). May be designated Cadet Engineer (water trans.) when in training. [DOT]

Related and specific occupations:

Barge engineer; boiler attendant; cadet engineer; cannery-tender engineer; engine attendant; engineering assistant; fishing vessel engineer; tugboat engineer 


Abrading; adjusting; aligning; assembling and disassembling; bolting; bonding; boring; brazing; brushing; burning; calibrating; cementing; chipping; clamping; cleaning; controlling (speed); coordinating; cutting; diagnosing; dipping; dismantling; drilling; driving; examining; fabricating; fastening; filing; filling; finishing; fitting; flame-cutting; forging; grinding; gluing; hammering; heating; inspecting (engines); installing; lifting; lubricating; machining; maintaining (machines; log and bell books); measuring (with instruments); melting; mending; milling; observing; operating; ordering; overhauling; painting; piercing; planning; positioning; pressing; pulling; pumping; pushing; raising; rebuilding; recharging; reconditioning; regulating; relining; removing; repairing; replacing; rewiring;
sanding; scraping; servicing; setting; soldering; spraying; stapling; starting (engines); supervising; watching; testing; threading; tightening; tuning; welding

Primary  equipment used:

Machine tools (saw, grinder, etc.); hand tools; fire extinguishers; personal protective equipment; water treatment equipment; plumbing, welding, soldering and other equipment 

Workplaces where the occupation is common

Ships (commercial or military), shipyards, barges



1. Quite frequently the seaman carries-out his work without sufficient supervision, without superior's approval, and many times without any knowledge about the properties of the materials (esp., chemicals) he is working with, and without knowledge of the required operations needed to minimize the damage in the event of an accident.

2. A considerable number of accidents happen when the seaman is engaged in securing cargo to the deck, when the surface upon which he is working is full with obstacles that make movement quite difficult; or when the seaman is checking the temperature of elevated containers - a task that requires "acrobatically talents" from
the seaman. This is even more severe due to the fact that quite frequently the worker is alone without any other crewman that can help in need! Very severe accidents may happen throughout the tying or untying of the ship, when the limited number of the crew prevents the necessary care and supervision required for such a
dangerous work.

3. Ladders must be secured by appropriate tying, especially when they are used as work-platforms; in such a case an additional worker must be at the place to watch the worker.


Encyclopaedia of Occupational Health and Safety, 3rd Ed. ILO, Geneva, 1983.

Encyclopaedia of Occupational Health and Safety, 4th Ed., ILO, Geneva, 1999

Safety Guide for the Merchant Marine (In Hebrew). IMMSC, Haifa, Israel 1992 (219 pp.)

Published by the HDOEDIT ( ILO/CIS, 1999) program. Updated by AS. Approved by DG.