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UK introduces new safety rules for enclosed spaces aboard ships

The UK government has introduced new regulations which for the first time clearly define ‘enclosed spaces’ aboard merchant shipping and fishing vessels, and set out safety rules governing those spaces.

The Merchant Shipping and Fishing Vessels (Entry Into Enclosed Spaces) Regulations 2022 (12 page / 83KB PDF) come into force on 14 May 2022. They will apply to UK ships and other ships in UK territorial waters to which the 1974 Safety of Life at Sea Convention applies.

Other ships, including fishing vessels, will fall under the scope of the regulations from 14 May 2023.

The 2022 regulations replace previous rules dating back to 1988 and will require shipowners, masters, employers of seafarers and other persons to comply with obligations designed to avoid deaths or injuries in enclosed spaces.

Shipping law expert Bruce Craig of Pinsent Masons said several fatalities each year resulted from entry into enclosed spaces on board ships.

Seafarers entering enclosed spaces can encounter oxygen-deficient, oxygen-enriched, flammable or toxic atmospheres. Multiple fatalities or injuries can also occur if crewmates find a casualty in an enclosed space, enter that space to effect a rescue and then fall victim to the same hazard. However, entry into enclosed spaces is nonetheless often necessary onboard ships and fishing vessels.

“Over the years there has been significant confusion in the maritime sector in identifying enclosed spaces. This has not been helped by different regulations variously referring to ‘confined’, ‘enclosed’ and ‘dangerous spaces’, and the International Maritime Organisation referring to ‘potentially dangerous’ spaces,” Craig said.

“The new regulations have been a long time coming, and it can be argued that the need for them goes back to the tragic triple fatality aboard Viking Islay as long ago as 2007. These updated regulations are very much to be welcomed,” Craig said.

The regulations define ‘enclosed space’ as a space which is not designed for continuous worker occupancy and has either or both of limited openings for entry and exit; and inadequate ventilation.

Shipowners, masters, skippers, fishermen, employers of seafarers and others must ensure that their systems of work include systems for entry into and working in enclosed spaces and an assessment of the risks involved. The master must ensure that those systems of work are observed on board the ship.

For ships that are not fishing vessels, the master must ensure that all entrances to unattended enclosed spaces on the vessel are either kept closed or otherwise secured against entry, except when entry is necessary.

The master must also ensure that drills are carried out on board the ship at least every two months, which includes checking the use of personal protective equipment, communication equipment and procedures, testing equipment, rescue equipment and procedures and also instructions in first aid and resuscitation techniques. Ships must carry appropriate portable atmosphere testing equipment.

Health and safety law expert Rachel Trease of Pinsent Masons said: “Breaching the regulations will be a criminal offence, and a ship may be detained if it is not compliant”.

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