10 Types of Dry Dock Accidents That Can Occur in Ship’s Engine Room

A ship’s dry dock is a hazardous place to work. In spite of providing a series of measures for ensuring personal safety to seafarers and dock workers, accidents still occur frequently. Blame it on human error, lack of knowledge, or insufficient safety equipment, at the end it’s the seafarers who have to suffer.

Several of causes are stated as reasons for accidents on board ships during dry dock, both in the engine and deck departments. Though most of the causes are same for both the departments, the ship’s engine room turns into a highly “accident-prone” area during the dry dock.

Knowing all the operations and procedures for ship’s dry dock is a must for the engine room crew. However, accidents do take place in spite of the training and guidance. Mentioned below are some of the common causes of accidents that can take place in the ship’s engine room during dry dock.

Note: Most of these accidents also occur when the ship is sailing at the sea; however, there changes of occurrence increases greatly in the dry dock.

ship dry dock

1. Fire

The most common and dangerous cause of accidents during dry dock, fire can lead to disastrous damage to both ship’s properly and lives of seafarers. Some of the main sources of fire in the ship’s engine room during dry dock are:

Hot Works : With a number of hot work jobs such as gas cutting, welding  etc. taking place in the engine room, there are high chances of accidents taking place. Oily rags, oil spill, flammable material etc. provide the right environment for fire during hot works. Fire can also erupt because of hot works in following areas:

  • If painting or chemical work is being carried out on the adjacent plates/bulkheads
  • In oil/cargo tanks are not properly cleaned and have flammable material remains
  • In enclosed places are not gas freed properly
  • If adjacent tanks and opposite side of the bulkheads have flammable material
  • If there are sounding pipes near the hot work areas
  • If oil spill is there in the area
  • Welding in situ engine room plates
  • During structural cutting

Apart from this, fire can also occur due to short circuit of electrical connections in the engine room. During dry dock, the engine room is filled with several electrical connections for portable equipment such as blowers, grinders, drillers, lamps etc. Proper insulation must be provided for these electrical connections and care should be taken to ensure that no circuit is overloaded because of less number of points. Electrical officer must be asked to put more circuits and electrical boards to avoid overloading of circuits.

Additional read:

Basics of Fire Prevention on Ships

Free eBook – A Guide to Personal Safety on Ships

2. Injury Due to Falling of Load

With every possible machinery and system going under maintenance during dry dock,  a number of spare parts are lifted to and from the ship’s engine room. Falling of load on crew members has lead to several deaths in the past and thus wearing helmet is compulsory in the ship’s engine room. Following points, must also be noted while carrying load to prevent accidents in the engine room:

– Minimum 2 people must be assigned for any kind of load lifting using cranes. One person should operate the crane while other must assist to provide direction and warn others to avoid accidents

– Crew members should avoid walking under any load when it’s being lifted by the crane, even though he or she is wearing a helmet

3. Falling/ Tripping of Personnel

A number of spare parts, tools, equipment etc. are lying around in the engine room during dry dock. This makes seafarers highly susceptible to trips and falls which can be extremely harmful in several cases. Oil or small sized spare parts lying on the floor plate are also one of the main reasons for falling/ tripping. Following points must be considered to avoid such accidents:

– Temporary railing must be provided around openings or plates which are removed from the engine room floor

– Put warning signs

– Clean slippery and oily floors as soon as possible

– Avoid running or waking in haste while using engine room ladder

– If the engine room skylight is open, put a railing around the same along with warning signs

Falling of personnel from height can also occur due to scaffold or safety harness failure. Thus, care must be taken to ensure that all platforms at a height are properly secured and adequate safety measures are provided.

4. Back Injury

Though this doesn’t sound like a fatal accident in the first place, back injury is actually a very serious problem that has been bothering seafarers for a long time now. Lifting heavy loads is a part of engine room procedures and engine personnel often neglect the right posture while lifting such load. There have been a few cases in the past wherein seafarers have been forced to take bed rest for months or even quit sailing because of such injury. Following points must be consider to avoid back injury:

– Use cranes and chain blocks wherever possible. Do not life heavy load manually as much as possible

– Divide the load to be lifted in the following categories:

Heavy – Loads that require crane and chain blocks. ( If they are not available ask for portable hydraulic fork lift to shift the load to the desired position or until the crane or blocks)

Moderate – If the load is moderate, 2-3 people should lift the load together.  Never lift it alone.

Small loads- These are loads which one person can lift. During this, one hand should be free especially when climbing or going down a ladder. The load must not block your vision.

Additional read:

How to avoid back injury on ships?

ship dry docking

5. Accidental Start of Machinery and Systems

Accidents have occurred in the past when machinery and systems have been started accidentally while maintenance work was being carried out. Such accidents can be extremely fatal for those working in the machinery. In order to avoid such situations, ensure that:

– The machinery and systems under maintenance are isolated, logged and tagged out

– When doing maintenance on electrical machinery, shut the main switch and remove the fuse (if present) for additional safety

The Ultimate Guide to Operating Engine Room Machinery is a premium ebook which explains starting and stopping procedures of all engine room machinery and systems on ships.

Click here to know more about this practical ebook.

6. Enclosed Space Accidents

Enclosed spaces are dangerous areas to work because of presence of toxic and flammable gases. There have been cases of accidents involving unconsciousness and death of seafarers even after the spaces were gas-freed. It is therefore extremely important that the enclosed spaces are properly gas freed and tested before entering.

Additional read

Procedure for entering enclosed space on ships

How to rescue a person from confined space?

7. Burns

Burns or Scalding are common occurrences in the ship’s engine room during dry dock. Steam pipes or hot oil are some of the main causes of burns. Also, during maintenance of machinery, heated parts can cause severe burns to seafarers.

Real life accident: After dry dock entering, boiler was brought to zero pressure before opening for maintenance. However, when the main steam valve body was opened, a lot of steam came out causing sever burn to the engine crew.

In order to avoid such incidents, ensure that the boiler vent is opened properly. Also, do not open the boiler immediately after the pressure reaches zero. Leave it idle for sometime before opening.

Burns can also be caused from chemicals and while performing hot works such as welding, gas cutting etc.

8. Failure of High Pressure Components/ Failure or Lifting Equipment

Equipment and tools with high pressure components are used during overhauling and lifting of engine room machinery and parts. Such high pressure components can rupture or burst causing irreversible injury to engine room crew. In case of high pressure pipe bursting, the jet from the system can puncture or piercer the skin causing very severe consequences. All these equipment should therefore be properly tested before using them.

 9. Electrical Shock

With several electrical connections present in the engine room for various tools and equipment, there are high chances of electrical shock to seafarers from improperly insulated wires and connections. Care must be taken to avoid overloading of circuits and coming in direct contact with any open wire.

Additional read:

How to avoid electrical shock on ships? 

Hazards related to electrical cable insulation in case of fire

10. Flooding

When the dry dock is complete, the dock is filled with water to start sea trials of the ship. While doing so, engine ship personnel must keep a close watch on all the recently repaired parts, valves, and machinery systems for any kind of water leakage. There have been cases of engine room flooding and loss of lives in the past because of such incidences.


A Guide to Master Dry Dock Operations of Ships is a practical ebook to learn about planning, execution and preparation of engine room operations during ship’s dry dock.

The ebook explains all the aspects of dry docking of ships for engine room department, along with safety precautions and procedures.

Click here to know more about the ebook.

Do you any other type of accident that can occur in the ship’s engine room during dry dock?

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  1. michael dennis says

    Dry docking why you should have a duty officer during nite even when no work is been done.

  2. Clive Maroon says

    I have read so many articles with regard to unsafe acts, incidents, near misses etc. But the main contributing common factor is the individual, group or companys attitude towards safety.
    A fire don’t start due to hot work, a person don’t fall from heights due to no or poor barracading, one don’t collapse in an confined oxygen depleted space. I firmly believe that all safety procedures, 5 min safety talks and many such tools are in place but if we seriously place safety first in our lives and that of others, we can overcome all resultants of unsafe acts.

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