Safety alert 06/2019 - Biological hazards in marine environments

A worker contracted a life-threatening respiratory infection with the bacteria Psychrobacter sanguinis.  

In the days immediately prior to contracting the infection, he had been cleaning biological fouling from marine infrastructure including jetty pylons. Biological fouling, also referred to as biofouling, may include microorganisms, plants, algae or small animals such as shellfish which can be hazardous to health.

Infections arising from bacteria entering the body through nicks or cuts in the skin have previously been linked to illness and death in the fishing and aquaculture industry.

Possible contributing factors in incidents of this type

Workers may potentially be exposed to biological hazards when cleaning biofouling from marine infrastructure by absorption through intact or damaged skin, inhalation or ingestion.

The risk of exposure depends on the cleaning methods and the control measures used. Hazards associated with the selected cleaning method may not have been identified, assessed and, as far as practicable, controlled.

Adequate personal protective equipment may not have been provided to or used by workers.

Information and training regarding biological hazards associated with cleaning biofouling may not have been provided.

Action required

  • Identify tasks where biological hazards may be present; for example when workers clean biofouling while working from a dock, vessel, shore or diving.
  • Conduct a risk assessment of the biological hazards for cleaning work on marine infrastructure and within marine, fishing or aquaculture industries. The risk assessment should include all potential routes of exposure associated with the cleaning methods used and any hazardous substances used.
  • Ensure workers who may be exposed to biological hazards, including marine bacteria, wear appropriate personal protective equipment. Depending on the task, cleaning methods and exposure routes, this could include respiratory protective equipment (such as a Class P2 particulate mask), overalls, apron, gloves, gumboots, eye protection and hearing protection.
  • Ensure the workplace has suitable first aid supplies and workers trained in first aid.
  • Apply suitable first aid to any cuts, nicks and scratches obtained in the marine environment.
  • Ensure workers have access to adequate workplace facilities to enable them to clean up after working on marine infrastructure.
  • Workers to adopt appropriate hygiene measures, such as showering, after carrying out cleaning work on marine infrastructure.
  • Provide information, instruction and training for workers on managing biological hazards when conducting cleaning work in marine environments.
  • Where hazardous substances are used, ensure safety data sheets are readily available to workers.

Further information

Last updated 17 Dec 2019

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