Complacency Leading To Workplace Injury

There are many types of injuries that can occur on board ships. Such injuries range from minor scratches to gruesome and severe ones that have led to fatalities, the loss of limbs, and partial or permanent disabilities.
Although seafarers are aware of the potential for injuries, some still ignore safety procedures. Various studies on workplace injuries have shown in many cases, these injuries occur because of complacency, negligence and failure to follow safety procedures.
The incident below illustrates how complacency had resulted in an injury to a crew member.

What happened?

On a clear and sunny day, an AB and the OS were inside the cargo hold cleaning the bilge wells.
Around noon, they were informed by the Bosun via walkie-talkie to take a break for lunch.
The AB made his way up the spiral ladder towards the access hatch. He was without his helmet as he had left it on the tank-top whilst he was cleaning the bilge wells
As he was exiting, the lid of the access hatch cover dropped and hit him on the head, causing a laceration.


The securing pins of the access hatch lid were not properly put in place when the access hatch was first opened for entry.
The unsecured access hatch lid had therefore closed by itself even though the AB held on to the hatch lid as he was exiting the cargo hold. This resulted in the cleats hitting the AB seafarer on his head.
He admitted he had climbed the ladder without his helmet.
The shipboard Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Matrix showed the wearing of a safety helmet was mandatory when working on deck.

Consequences of the incident?

  • The AB seafarer sustained a 14cm rounded laceration on his scalp
  • First aid was administered by the Master
  • The AB seafarer was then referred to a local hospital, where the laceration was stitched. He was subsequently repatriated to his home country.

All too often, seafarers do not realise how complacent they are until they experience a near miss or an actual accident.
Complacency - "self-satisfaction especially when accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies" - is often the root cause of many shipboard injuries and accidents.

Lessons Learnt

  • Always wear PPE (e.g. helmet) when working on deck
  • Securing pins must always be put in place for doors, hatches, etc. When the vessel is in a seaway, additional securing should be done the traditional way with a rope as a secondary safety barrier as necessary
  • Safety signs and reminders should be put in place
Complacency must be addressed before it degenerates into "contagious complacency" - A situation where the success of past outcomes contributes to complacency; i.e. when one performs in ways that are not consistent with best practices and gets away with it, building a false confidence that is based largely on luck and not on ability. This would involve taking proactive steps:
  • Developing and practicing personal safety habits until one is spontaneously and habitually safe
  • Sharing complacency-related accidents or near misses and using them as learning opportunities
  • Watching over each other's actions and sharing observations on how the job could be performed in a safer manner
  • Installing safety culture on board.