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Increased noise limits, more stringent regulation of minors and new rules on electromagnetic fields were some of the new regulations for the work environment on ships, published on 1 August by the Swedish Transport Agency.

The new regulations contain more as well as less stringent requirements than previously and have been praised as well as criticised by the shipping industry. The most widely criticised change is the raising of maximum permissible noise levels by between 5 and 10%. The noise level allowed in control rooms, for example, has been increased from 70 to 75 dB and in workshops from 75 to 85 dB. Several referral bodies were critical to the increase of noise levels permitted, including the Work Environment Authority and the Public Health Agency.

Noise and hearing loss have been a problem in the shipping industry for decades, and the raised limit for noise exposure is seen by many as a step backwards.

“They’ve raised the maximum permitted noise levels in places where you should be able to take off your ear protectors and relax away from the noise, such as control rooms and workshops. That is not good,” says Pelle Andersson from SEKO Seafarers.

International noise level requirements
According to the Transport Agency’s work environment coordinator, Christina Östberg, the change was made to harmonize with the international noise requirements agreed in the IMO (International Maritime Organization).

“The shipyards that build our ships are often in Korea or China, and if they’re manufacturing a series of maybe 100 ships it is more expensive to make one or two only for Swedish requirements. Standardised noise level requirements can also make the flagging of ships easier and increase Swedish competitiveness in the sector. We have managed to keep our more stringent noise requirements in cabins though,” she says.

Christina Östberg also stresses that the Transport Agency recommends that we continue to follow the old noise exposure limits.

“The regulation concerns maximum sound levels, i.e. levels which must not be exceeded. The sound levels on board should be reduced to the minimum possible, taking into account technical developments, what is reasonable and what is practicable. It may also become a requirement that the shipowner supplies better hearing protection and that schedules are organised so that personnel spend less time in areas with high noise levels.”

In other areas, the Transport Agency’s new regulations mean stricter rules than in the past, such as health and safety for minors. The rules on working hours for under-18s doing placements on board will be sharpened.

Since 1 August, the following rules also apply for maritime transport:

“When we looked through the regulations we discovered that working hours for minors who are employed were more regulated than for young people on training. We did not think it reasonable that a 16-year-old could work more than 40 hours a week during practice on board, at the risk of being exploited as cheap labour. Sweden has also been criticized by the EU and the ILO (International Labor Organization) regarding its rules for minors, but this has now been dealt with,” says Christina Östberg.

Work at berth
Another change in the new regulations is that more areas will be regulated, including a regulation on artificial optical radiation, the use of presses and power shears, and electromagnetic fields. Work on the ship when it is docked has also become more strictly organised.

“This is a good thing, because we have had some incidents in connection with loading and unloading. In the past, work in ports was only regulated when the ship was in Swedish ports. Now the rules also apply abroad,” says Christina Östberg.

Linda Sundgren, text and photo

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