Accident Advisory: Worker fell into sea

18 Dec 2019

Ref No.: 181219 (1)

UEN: S97SS0046G

Dear Valued ASPRI Members,

Accident Advisory: Worker fell into sea

Ref: 1920060 WSH Alert Accident Notification dated 30 October 2019

On 23 October 2019 around 5pm, a worker was crossing a vessel’s gangway onto a launch boat when he lost his balance and fell into the sea. His body was subsequently found at sea.


Stakeholders such as occupiers, principals, employers and contractors in control of similar workplaces and work activities are advised to consider the following risk control measures to prevent similar accidents:

Pre-embarkation briefing

  • Prior to vessel embarkation/disembarkation, employers should ensure that workers involved in a boat-to-vessel or vessel-to-boat transfer are briefed on the following (non-exhaustive):
    • method of transfer (the gangway in this case);
    • personal protective equipment to be used (e.g. anti-slip footwear, life jacket); and
    • on-site hazards (e.g. slippery floor, choppy waters, weather condition)
  • Employers should ensure that workers are physically fit for the transfer by asking the following (non-exhaustive):
    • Are you feeling unwell?
    • Are you familiar with the use of gangway and/or pilot ladder?
    • Do you have a good sense of balance?
    • Do you suffer from motion sickness?
    • Are you taking medication that may impair judgement?
    • Are you afraid of heights?

Favourable environmental condition

  • Always observe the environmental/weather conditions before deploying a gangway. The gangway should not be used for vessel embarkation/disembarkation during adverse weather conditions (e.g. heavy rain, lightning, strong winds, choppy waters).

Advice for workers: Safe use of gangway

  • Prior to using a gangway, check that the walking surface and/or steps are free of obstructions and slip, trip and fall hazards.
  • Do not use the gangway if it is insufficiently illuminated and workers are unable to clearly see where they are going.
  • Do not hand-carry any items (i.e. keep your hands free) when using a gangway.
  • Hold on to both guardrails (thereby maintaining 3 points of contact at all times) and take one gangway step at a time.
  • Embark/disembark only when the gangway is level with the launch boat or as directed by the launch master.
  • Do not proceed with embarkation/disembarkation if the environmental conditions are unfavourable, there is extensive vessel/boat movement or if you feel it is unsafe.

Supervision of transfers

  • Consider deploying a deckhand on board the launch boat to supervise and assist passengers during embarkation/disembarkation. The deckhand would be able to advise if the environmental/weather conditions are conducive for safe passenger transfer.
  • There should also be at least one crew member (often referred to as the gangway watch) on board the vessel tending the gangway and observing passenger movement. The gangway watch would be in a position to initiate emergency response should an accident occur.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

  • Regulation 23 Part 11(b) of the Workplace Safety and Health (General Provisions) Regulations stipulates that it is the duty of the employer of a person who is exposed to the risk of falling into water and drowning to provide a suitable life jacket or other equipment to keep the person afloat in the event the person falls into the water.
  • Employers should educate their workers on the importance of wearing life jackets during boat-to-vessel and vessel-to-boat transfers. In addition, employers should ascertain the workers’ ability to swim before deployment so as to reduce the risk of drowning should workers fall into the water.
  • Provide on-site supervision to check that workers are equipped with the necessary PPE (e.g. anti-slip footwear, life jacket) and properly attired prior to embarkation/disembarkation.

Risk Assessment

Conduct a thorough Risk Assessment (RA) to identify and control any foreseeable risk that may arise during embarkation or disembarkation of vessels. The RA should cover, but is not limited to, the following areas:

  • Workers’ physical condition
  • Adverse environmental/weather condition
  • Use of life jacket
  • Response plan for emergency situations e.g. man overboard

Further Information

  1. Workplace Safety and Health Act
  2. Workplace Safety and Health (Risk Management) Regulations
  3. Workplace Safety and Health (General Provisions) Regulations
  4. Workplace Safety and Health (Shipbuilding and Ship-Repairing) Regulations
  5. Code of Practice on Workplace Safety and Health Risk Management
  6. Workplace Safety & Health Manual for Marine Industries 
  7. Guide to WSH for Service Providers on Safe Working on Ships at Anchorages
  8. WSH Council’s Video – Safe Boarding of Vessels
  9. International Maritime Organization – Guidelines for Construction, Installation, Maintenance and Inspection/Survey of Means of Embarkation and Disembarkation 
  10. American Bureau of Shipping – Guide for Certification of Offshore Access Gangways 
  11. DNVGL-ST-0358 – Certification of Offshore Gangways for Personnel Transfer
  12. Port Logistics Operations’ Video – Safety Video: Boarding and Leaving a Vessel Safely
  13. Wilhelmsen’s Article – Through the Eyes of a Ship Agent: Boarding Vessels at Sea

Information on the accident is based on preliminary investigations by the Ministry of Manpower as at 6 December 2019. This may be subject to change as investigations are still on-going. Please also note that the recommendations provided here are not exhaustive and they are meant to enhance workplace safety and health so that a recurrence may be prevented. The information and recommendations provided are not to be construed as implying any liability on any party nor should it be taken to encapsulate all the responsibilities and obligations under the law.