Accident Advisory: Worker fell overboard from tugboat

05 Mar 2020

Ref No.: 050320 (1)

UEN: S97SS0046G

Dear Valued ASPRI Members,

Accident Advisory: Worker fell overboard from tugboat

Ref: 1920090 WSH Alert Accident Notification dated 23 January 2020

On 16 January 2020, a captain and a worker were on a tugboat proceeding towards a mooring buoy when the worker fell over the edge of the deck into the sea. He was rescued and conveyed to the hospital where he subsequently passed away.


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

Safe method of work

  • Prior to any mooring operation, the work should be properly planned for safe execution. Relevant safe work procedures must be established in the plan, including the safe position of workers and the mooring  technique. Prevailing operational circumstances such as manpower and equipment constraints should also be considered in the plan so that a fall overboard situation can be avoided.Prior to formwork structure erection, ensure that the structures used are adequately designed for its intended purpose.
  • Only allow workers who have been trained on the safe work procedures to carry out the operation.

Personal Protectective Equipment (PPE)

  • Personnel working on tugboats must put on the appropriate PPE such as anti-slip footwear and high visibility clothing. It is also highly recommended that all personnel don suitable lifejackets whenever they are on the deck of the tugboat.
  • The tug master or tugboat captain should ensure that his crew is equipped with and using the appropriate footwear and lifejacket when boarding or disembarking from the vessel, when working on the deck, and performing mooring operation.

Hazard awareness and risk communication

  • Prior to work commencement, all workers should be briefed on the possible hazard(s) associated with the work activities (e.g. falling overboard and into the water) and the safety precautions to be taken when working on board the tugboat.For formwork structures supplied by a manufacturer, ensure that all relevant personnel have attended the familiarisation training and/or briefing provided by the manufacturer.
  • Workers should always take instructions from the tug master or tugboat captain and adhere to the safe work procedures for the tasks at hand.
  • Encourage workers to report any unsafe work condition or workplace safety and health concern that could result in risk of injury or loss of life so that these could be addressed before an accident occurs.

Emergency response plan

  • Procedures should be established for responding to “Man Overboard (MOB)” situation. All personnel working on the tugboat must be familiar with the emergency response procedure and be ready to immediately respond should a MOB situation arise.
  • The tugboat should be equipped with the means to facilitate rescue of a man overboard such as a rescue pole, a floatation device with lifeline, a MOB beacon (for location marking), and/or a rescue dinghy where practicable.

Risk Assessment

Employers, principals and contractors are required to conduct a thorough Risk Assessment (RA) to manage any foreseeable risk that may arise when on board a tugboat. The RA should address, but not limited to, the following areas:

Workers physical condition

  • Ensure all workers are fit for work and in good health prior to any work on board the tugboat.

Slip, trip and fall hazards

  • Ensure that work areas are free from slip and trip hazards. Tugboat decks should be made anti-/non-slip, and trip hazards highlighted or made clearly visible.

Work environment

  • Prevailing environmental conditions such as strong winds, heavy rain and/or choppy waters must be considered prior to commencing work activities such as mooring and towing. Bad weather typically increases the risk of such operations and a risk assessment has to be conducted by the tug master or tugboat captain on whether it is safe to proceed with the work.

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. Code of Practice on Workplace Safety and Health Risk Management
  5. SS 513: 2013 Specification for Personal Protective Equipment – Footwear – Part 1: Safety Footwear
  6. Workplace Safety and Health Manual for Marine Industries  
  7. WSH Guidelines on Workplace Housekeeping
  8. Guide to WSH for Service Providers on Safe Working on Ships at Anchorages
  9. Code of Practice for the Safe Mooring of Vessels on the Thames 2010, Port of London Authority. 
  10. Tugs and Tows – A Practical Safety and Operational Guide, The Shipowners’ Mutual Protection and Indemnity Association (Luxembourg).

Information on the accident is based on preliminary investigations by the Ministry of Manpower as at 06 February 2020. 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.