Indoor environment and air quality on board

Humans spend almost 90 percent of their time indoors, and the rest is spent in vehicles or outdoors. As seafarers often work for long periods on board with little opportunity for variation and environmental change, the ships’ indoor environment and air quality are important for both health and well-being. Seafarers are one of the occupational groups that are particularly exposed to hazardous substances from fuels and exhaust fumes. The closed environment also involves the risk of infectious diseases being spread on board, especially in the human respiratory system.

The indoor environment and air quality on board are largely affected by the type of fuel used and how the ship’s ventilation system is designed. These factors affect which chemical air pollutants and particles are present in the air but also the thermal comfort, that is, how we experience temperature and draft at a workplace or in a cabin.

In several extensive research projects together with researchers at IVL, the Swedish Environmental Research Institute, we have mapped the indoor environment on ships, seafarers’ personal exposure to dangerous air pollutants, and how work and the indoor environment are affected by different types of fuel.

The results show that the overall indoor environment is good on Swedish ships, but there are differences both between ships and occupational groups, where engine personnel are exposed to the highest levels of air pollution. All measured levels are below the Swedish Work Environment Authority’s occupational exposure limits, but some levels are in line with and in some cases slightly above the World Health Organization’s health-based and stricter guideline values for indoor environments. However, these guidelines values are set for indoor environments without industrial activities. Nevertheless, it is important to work systematically to minimize exposure to hazardous air pollutants as far as possible. Therefore, work that, for example, involve contact with fuel, lubricating oil, hydraulic oil or other chemicals, exposure to exhaust fumes or frying fumes may need to be assessed separately.

Measures to reduce personal exposure can be both technical and organizational. It is important to ensure good ventilation for both workplaces and cabins. Some spaces may need special extraction of air near the source., such as workplaces for welding, cleaning of engine parts, mixing of paint, or above frying tables in the kitchen, just to mention a few. It is also important to have good routines for cleaning and maintenance of equipment and ventilation systems. Organizational measures can include planning and distribution of work to reduce the exposure for individuals through job rotation, change of work, and opportunities for taking breaks in areas with lower exposure.

The projects were funded by Afa Insurance and the Swedish Mercantile Marine Foundation 

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