Safe Lighting in the Shipyard

HSE_Press_shipyard_BarryJohn has been working at the shipyard for nearly three months and though he’s still fairly inexperienced, he is beginning to feel more confident he can perform the tasks his boss needs him to perform. John finished speaking with his boss, and then went to his assigned work area inside the ship.  To gain access to his assigned work area, John must use an accessway, which in this case is a ladder attached to the inside of the ship. While descending the ladder, John is having a hard time seeing the ladder because the lighting isn’t very good. John is descending the ladder by taking one foot off and one hand off at the same time and lowering them to the next rung. John is descending relatively quickly and places his foot where he thinks the next rung is located. The only problem is that he didn’t actually see the rung, and he misjudged the distance. John’s foot slipped. John fell off the ladder and was severely injured.

So, what could John and his employer have done differently to prevent this tragic event?  His employer should have been aware of the unsafe lighting levels around the accessway before asking John to perform a specific task in the area.  His employer should have added permanent or temporary lighting to the accessway.  The lighting should have been set to a minimum of 3 lumens.

Temporary Lighting

When adding temporary lighting John’s employer would need to ensure the lighting is:

  • guarded when bulbs are not entirely recessed to stop workers from touching a hot bulb;
  • equipped with electric cords that have sufficient capacity to carry the electric load, and keep the workers safe from hazards such as fire and electrical shock;
  • equipped with insulation and electric cord connections that are maintained in a safe condition (e.g., free from being crushed, cracked, or damaged); and
  • grounded, either with a third wire in the cord or a separate wire, when non-current-carrying metal parts are exposed (grounding must be in accord with 29 CFR part 1910, subpart S.);
  • never hang lights or lighting stringers by their electric cords (e.g., from the side rails or rungs of ladders), unless they are made by the manufacturer to do so (improper suspension can place additional stress on cords, causing them to break, fray, or become damaged, which may expose workers to fire, or electrical shock);
  • branch circuits need over-current protection that does not exceed the rated current-carrying capacity of the cord used (over-current protection helps prevent possible electrical and fire hazards associated with circuit overloading);
  • when you have to splice a cord, the insulation needs to be greater than that of the original cord (this will help prevent worker injury and ignition of combustible materials in case a surplus of energy or “hot spot” occur at the splice junction);
  • in any area where the atmosphere has a concentration of flammable vapors that are at or above 10 percent of the lower explosive limit (LEL), self-contained, explosion-proof temporary lights must be used; and
  • all self-contained, explosion-proof temporary lights must be approved by a nationally recognized testing laboratory (NRTL).

Though John had been working at the shipyard for three months did his employer train him how to ascend and descend accessways properly, and more precisely, ladders? As noted above, John was not descending the ladder safely. John was moving one foot, and one hand down at the same time, only leaving two-points of contact on the ladder at any given time. John’s employer should have trained him on how to safe use a ladder.

Safe Ladder Use

  • always use the 3-point contact rule (two feet and a hand, or two hands and a foot) when ascending/descending a ladder;
  • face the ladder when ascending or descending;
  • keep your body inside the side rails;
  • use extra care when getting on/off the ladder at the top/bottom;
  • always carry tools in a tool belt or raise tools up using a hand line (do not carry tools in your hands while ascending/descending a ladder); and
  • always keep ladders free of any slippery materials.

Unsafe Ladder Use

  • exceeding the ladder’s maximum load rating;
  • leaning out beyond the ladder’s side rails; and
  • ascending/descending at a rate that doesn’t allow you to ensure you are maintaining a 3-point contact.

If John been trained to use the ladder correctly, and the lighting been at 3 lumens or greater, he very likely would not have had to suffer through this tragic event.


OSHA, (2013), OSHA FactSheet, Safe Lighting Practices in the Shipyard Industry. Retrieved from

OSHA, (2013), OSHA FactSheet, Reducing Falls in Construction: Safe Use of Extension Ladders. Retrieved from