The Code of Safe Working Practices (COSWP) Code details the regulatory framework for health and safety on board, safety management and statutory duties underlying the advice in the Code and the areas that should be covered when introducing a recruit to the safety procedures on board, aspiring to provide guidance on improving health and safety on vessels and also articulates how statutory obligations should be fulfilled, aiming mainly for merchant seafarers on UK-registered ships.


MCA further stresses that the Code is addressed to everyone on a ship regardless of rank or rating, and to those ashore responsible for safety, because the recommendations can be effective only if they are understood by all and if everyone cooperates in their implementation.

It is said that occupational health and safety risks may lead to death, permanent disability, temporary disability or reduced work capability. Occupational health and safety risks may arise from work-related hazards or from the general living and working conditions on board, sometimes referred to as ambient factors. In cases where some risks are unavoidable, appropriate control measures should be implemented to minimize exposure to hazards that may cause injury, disease or death. Harmful exposure may have short-term or long-term adverse health effects.

Moreover, any risks inherent in the working environment must be identified and evaluated in a form of risk assessment, and measures must be taken to remove or minimize those risks and protect seafarers and others from harm.

The MCA highlights that some risks include

  • ambient factors, such as noise, vibration, lighting, ultra-violet light, non-ionising radiation and extreme temperatures;
  • inherent hazards, such as the vessel’s structure, means of access, ergonomic hazards and hazardous materials such as asbestos;
  • hazards arising from work activities, such as work in enclosed spaces, use of equipment and machinery, working on and below deck in adverse weather, dangerous cargo and ballast operations, and exposure to biological hazards or chemicals;
  • health risks, such as fatigue and impacts on mental occupational health; and
  • the emergency and accident response.

What is more, risks from violence in the workplace, tobacco smoking, drug abuse, alcohol misuse and drug or alcohol dependence are covered in this Code.

Many regulations lay down specific requirements for standards of safety, equipment or operations, which must be satisfied to comply with the law. Where there are no specific requirements, the MCA generally considers compliance with the Code as demonstrating that the Company, employer or seafarer did what was reasonable to comply with the regulations. The MCA notes that each situation will be considered and evaluated on an individual basis, adding that

The guidance must never be regarded as superseding or amending regulation, and risk assessment should always be used to ensure that all risks are addressed.

Moreover, the Code provides guidance on safe working practices for many situations that commonly arise on ships, and the basic principles can be applied to many other work situations that are not specifically covered. However, it is noted that  it should not be considered a comprehensive guide to safety and advice should always be considered in conjunction with the findings of the Company’s or employer’s risk assessment, and any information, procedures or working instructions provided by the manufacturer, supplier or any other source should be followed.

The MCA notes that it is the duty of shipowners and employers to protect the health and safety of seafarers and others so far as is reasonably practicable. The principles that should underpin health and safety measures are:

  • the avoidance of risks, which among other things includes the combating of risks at source and the replacement of dangerous practices, substances or equipment by non-dangerous or less dangerous practices, substances or equipment;
  • the evaluation of unavoidable risks and the taking of action to reduce them;
  • the adoption of work patterns and procedures that take account of the capacity of the individual, especially in respect of the design of the workplace and the choice of work equipment, with a view in particular to alleviating monotonous work and to reducing any consequent adverse effect on workers’ health and safety;
  • the adaptation of procedures to take account of new technology and other changes in working practices, equipment, the working environment and any other factors that may affect health and safety;
  • the adoption of a coherent approach to management of the vessel or undertaking, taking account of health and safety at every level of the organization;
  • giving collective protective measures priority over individual protective measures; and
  • the provision of appropriate and relevant information and instruction for workers.

On their part, seafarers are required to:

  • take reasonable care for their own health and safety and that of others on board who may be affected by their acts or omissions;
  • cooperate with anyone else carrying out health and safety duties, including compliance with control measures identified during the employer’s or Company’s risk assessment;
  • report any identified serious hazards or deficiencies immediately to the appropriate officer or other responsible person; and
  • make proper use of plant and machinery and treat any hazard to health or safety, such as a dangerous substance with due caution.

More specifically, the report focuses on managing occupational health and safety; safety induction; living on board; emergency drills and procedures; fire precautions; security on board; health surveillance; personal protective equipment; safety signs and their use; manual handling; safe movement on board ship; noise, vibration and other physical agents; safety officials; entering dangerous (enclosed) spaces; hatch covers and access lids; work at height; provision, care and use of work equipment; lifting plant and operations; work on machinery and power systems; hazardous substances and mixtures; boarding arrangements; food preparation and handling in the catering; hot work; painting; anchoring, mooring and towing operations; roll-on/roll-off ferries; dry cargo; tankers and other ships carrying bulk liquid cargoes; port towage industry; ships serving offshore oil and gas installations; ships serving offshore renewables installations as well as ergonomics.

This Code published by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) is endorsed by the National Maritime Occupational Health and Safety Committee, UK Chamber of Shipping, Nautilus International and the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) as best practice guidance for improving health and safety on board ship.

The latest version of the Code of safe working practices for merchant seafarers (COSWP) 2019 can be found bellow.