COVID-19 has highlighted how marine and offshore assets can be affected by infectious diseases. Robust procedures and protocols should be implemented for the health and wellbeing of those involved in day-to-day operations of marine and offshore assets.
Given that the environment on marine and offshore assets is restricted, infectious diseases have the potential to spread rapidly and to affect significant proportions of the personnel on board. Infectious diseases are transmitted through six main routes: food, water, vectors (such as rodents and insects), air, direct contact between humans and indirect contact with contaminated surfaces.
By considering these issues at the design stage of an asset, the effectiveness of operational measures can be significantly increased. In a recent poll conducted by the American Bureau of Shipping, approximately one-third of participants said they are considering changing future marine or offshore asset design, or altering current assets, to better prevent or manage an outbreak on board.
For many existing assets without the option of re-design, the key is to develop protocols and procedures aimed at mitigating infectious disease risks, and to prevent or minimize impact should an outbreak occur.
Based on several governmental and commercial sources, including the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), American Society for Healthcare Engineering (ASHE), the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), and the World Health Organization (WHO), ABS has identified ways to mitigate against the occurrence and transmission of infectious diseases onboard an asset:
- Single occupancy isolation cabins with an anteroom provide a means for isolating individuals with suspected cases of an infectious disease. Isolation cabins and their associated anterooms, should be under negative pressure to prevent contaminated air from escaping to near-by accommodation. They should be ventilated and air-conditioned without putting the exhaust air into recirculation, or venting it near high-traffic public spaces or other air intakes. Special considerations should be given to materials and surfaces to facilitate cleaning and disinfection.
- Medical facilities should also be under negative pressure and be located as close as possible to the entrance into the accommodation block from an open deck space. Ventilation, material, and surface requirements similar to the isolation cabins should be considered.
- Separated facilities for use by visitors should be considered in order to promote the segregation of visitors and crew. Designated sanitary and office spaces should be provided with independent air exhausts and interior material and surface requirements like the ones for isolation cabins. These spaces should be readily accessible from an outside entrance to avoid inadvertent contact between visitors and crew.
- Storerooms for infectious solid waste, cleaning agents, disinfectants, and laundry rooms should be well ventilated with the exhaust air fed directly to the outside. All interior surfaces should be accessible for cleaning and disinfection.
- Support infrastructure to provide medical back-up and advice to physicians and other health care personnel should be considered. For example, telemedicine can contribute to clinical care, as well as to the epidemiological management of infectious diseases, both of which can be very challenging for medical providers practicing in remote locations.
- Independent pilot ladders stored in a separate compartment or locker will minimize the possibility of pilot and crew coming into contact with the same surfaces.
Each infectious disease outbreak is unique and may present different operational challenges on board marine and offshore assets. The early detection, prevention, and control of infectious diseases may be achieved using many different operational measures. There are two types of operational plans that can be integrated as part of a company’s health, safety, quality and environmental (HSQE) management system.
Prevention management plan – includes measures to minimize the risk of exposure. It should be developed long before the threat of infection, and implemented in case of an epidemic in the area where the asset is located, or will be in the near future, or in a global pandemic, before the asset experiences cases. This is in addition to the steps taken to prevent infectious diseases such as food service safety and other operational processes.
Outbreak management plan – contains a range of measures to manage the outbreak, including isolation of suspected cases to prevent spread, active surveillance of cases onboard, incident reporting procedures for informing the local port health authority, asset management, identification of risk factors, and more.
For more information on the ABS guidance, go to www.eagle.org.
Contributors to this article are
- Martin Petricic: A Senior ABS Engineer based in Split, Croatia, Martin works in ABS’ world-leading research and technology development across a range of maritime disciplines.
- Gareth Burton: Gareth Burton serves as ABS Vice President for Technology, advancing innovation and research to enhance the class experience and drive more efficient and effective maritime operations.
- Rear Admiral Joyce Johnson: Rear Admiral Joyce Johnson DO MA U.S. Public Health Service (Ret), A physician and infectious disease epidemiologist with an expansive career of senior public health leadership in civilian and US military sectors.