Habitability guidelines from ABS aim to improve living conditions for workboat crews

Brian Gauvin

Greater Scott, a crew/supply vessel owned by Texas Crewboats, has comfortable nonwork spaces, including a mess area with flat-screen TV.

Mariners are faced with the challenge of living where they work. As a result, they are subjected to a wide range of environmental factors such as extreme temperatures, lighting, vibration and noise. Together these factors have a profound effect on overall performance and safety.

Aware of the impact of crew comfort on safety and performance, the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) is in the process of amending its 2008 guidelines for crew habitability aboard workboats, such as offshore supply vessels, platform supply vessels, crew boats, and lift boats.

These amendments come in response to the International Labor Organization (ILO) Maritime Labor Convention 2006 (MLC), which is currently being ratified by its members. To date, 15 member countries out of 30 have ratified the convention. Once ratified, ships governed by the convention will have 12 months to comply with the guidelines.

Brian Gauvin

the Boston Towing ASD tug Justice, built by J.M. Martinac Shipbuilding, has rubber anti-vibration fittings in all piping. On the East Coast, Chesapeake Shipbuilding in Salisbury, Md., has been exploring ways to minimize vibration on both its passenger vessels and its tugboats.

Changes that might be required to meet the new ILO standards include:

– Increases in headroom requirements in all passageways, sleeping rooms, stairs, sanitary spaces, offices, food service areas, and recreational areas;

– Increases in floor space in crew cabins;

– Prescribed floor area for some crew recreation/messing areas;

– Provision of an environment that is free from hazardous levels of noise and vibration;

– Provision of air conditioning, heating and adequate lighting.

Vessels that meet the basic ABS habitability guidelines are granted a HAB notation. HAB+ and HAB++ notations indicate the operator is providing enhanced living and working conditions to improve seafarer safety and comfort. To earn these notations operators must meet criteria for enhanced workspace design, berthing and recreation/leisure facilities.

The new guidelines will also serve vessel operators searching for new employees in a competitive market. Kevin McSweeney, manager for the ABS Safety & Human Factors Group said, "Operators are seeking more ways to recruit and retain crew, and the quality of life on their vessels is becoming an increasingly important factor when competing for talent."

Brian Gauvin

A well-lighted galley on a 600-foot tanker: Chief Steward Josue Iglesia aboard Sunshine State.

The notations will give them a clear way to indicate to prospective crew the quality of shipboard life aboard their vessels.

The guidelines will have their biggest effect on new vessels rather than existing ones. Jennifer Bewley, ABS's manager for external affairs, said, "ILO MLC requirements that will influence design include, but are not limited to: increased overhead clearances, large floor area requirements for crew cabins and recreation areas, and the requirement for a dedicated medical space."

Andre Dubroc, general manager of Master Boat Builders of Bayou La Batre, Ala., a company that typically builds five to seven workboats a year, said that adherence to the guidelines will increase the cost of building a vessel but that the guidelines only apply to vessels being built to operate internationally or those that are over 500 gross tons. Most vessels working in U.S. waters will not be affected, he said.

But labor unions see the guideline revisions as a positive move for the industry. "Life at sea has always been a challenge, whether it be working on a large oceangoing ship, a harbor tug or an offshore supply or work vessel," said Mike Jewell, president of the Marine Engineers' Beneficial Association (MEBA). "The stress of the job, the hazards of the marine environment and the actual crew accommodations often lead to fatigue and impaired situational awareness. These revised guidelines by ABS that go beyond the ILO requirements are a welcome tool to address the human element side of the offshore industry. Improved overall quality of life at sea for the crew will increase safety and improve crew retention."

By Professional Mariner Staff