Press Release: Leading Insurer Warns of Potential Air Quality Danger in Enclosed Cargo Spaces

8 April 2010

Dangers to shore-based cargo handling workers are highlighted by the two latest risk management guides issued by specialist insurance provider, TT Club

8th April, 2010

Tragically, a regular cause of fatalities amongst shore-side labour working on board bulk cargo vessels is asphyxiation. Similar incidents are known to occur when workers enter freight containers whether on-board ship, on terminal or during any point on its onward journey. ICHCA International has joined with the TT Club to produce two pocket guides, which form part of a series of risk management advisories, and warn those who are actively involved in or the supervising of cargo loading or discharge operations of the dangers of atmospheric contamination in both on-board situations and containers. The guides also contain advice on the precautions to be taken. The fundamental message is ..Before entering stop and think. "Fatalities can occur under certain circumstances within the enclosed spaces of cargo holds on bulk cargo vessels as well as in containers when the cargo emits either noxious gases or even inert ones in such quantity that they replace the oxygen available in a tightly packed, restricted environment," states Peregrine Storrs-Fox, TT Club's Risk Management Director, in outlining the dangers. A number of commonly transported cargoes can affect the atmosphere in enclosed spaces to such an extent that it can no longer sustain life. Human beings breathe a natural atmosphere which consists of 79% nitrogen and 21% oxygen. As the oxygen level decreases, so do the chances of survival until at 16% concentration, asphyxiation occurs. This is the case even though the remainder of the atmosphere might consist of an entirely harmless gas or gases. Such a situation can be brought about in an enclosed space by processes which absorb the oxygen out of the atmosphere. For example, oxidisation, the chemical process of rusting has this effect. Experience has shown that the process can work relatively quickly and produce dangerous conditions, in a cargo of scrap metal for example, overnight. Other cargoes can also produce the same outcome, for example copra. Anybody in an enclosed space, approaching such cargoes, even in a vessel's access-way leading to a hold, could be in danger. Perhaps more obviously, if the atmosphere contains harmful, toxic gas, and there are cargoes which can give off such gases, then workers are clearly in danger. Specifically concerning containers there is also another hazard. A number of cargoes require fumigation and, whilst some are fumigated before travelling and, therefore, should be safe, it is quite common to insert a fumigant following the loading of goods into the container. Fumigants can, therefore, be present during the movement and still be a hazard at unloading. In this case, the cargo becomes Class 9 and subject to the IMDG Code - UN number 3359 - and a fumigation sign should be affixed to the container door. It is human nature to go to the assistance of a colleague in trouble but, unfortunately in these sorts of situations, multiple deaths have occurred as would-be rescuers are overcome by the same asphyxiating conditions experienced by the first entrant. Such attempts should, therefore only be undertaken with the use of proper protective breathing equipment. Whilst such dangers apply equally to the ship's crew, these guides are aimed at shore-side workers, who might well be less adequately trained for these eventualities. The simple pocket cards explain the dangers and how they can arise and also list many cargoes which can produce such a hazardous atmosphere. Additionally, the guides explain precautions that should be taken if entry into affected areas is necessary for work purposes. The guides come both in printed form and as a PDF, the latter providing links to related information. The PDF is downloadable from the publications menu on the Home page of the TT Club website at It is also possible to request the printed version free of charge however; a contribution to production costs may be required for larger orders. Please follow the instructions on the website for ordering printed copies. The guides are also available from ICHCA International Ltd at

A full archive of all TT Club news releases and photographs is available from the ISIS Communications Press Room at

Staff Author

TT Club