Engine room cleanliness should be part of your maintenance schedule

It is sometimes unclear within a company’s structure where a marine engineer’s responsibilities begin and end. This often correlates directly with vessel management oversight.

An engine room directly represents vessel management.

The standard of engine room upkeep and maintenance is a reflection of how the vessel is run. A clean ship is a tight ship.

If you took your car to a garage only to find the workshop a mess, I’m sure you wouldn’t feel overly confident that your car will be cared for. Opposed to arriving at a garage that is well organized, clean, and tidy – this demonstrates a team/company that cares about every detail of their job and will likely care for your car in the same manner.

It is up to your leaders to set these service and maintenance standards onboard for every space – especially in the engine room.

You would have heard terms such as – ‘cleanliness is next to godliness’ or ‘the engine room was so clean you could eat off the deck plates’ and ‘that engine is so shiny that we don’t need lights down here’.

But all these sayings are generally attributed to an engineer suffering from OCD or wanting to impress a superior, instead of being part of a maintenance regime.

These reasons prove that engine room cleanliness should be part of your vessel management schedule

1.         Port State Control

National authorities are required to verify that the condition of the vessel and its equipment comply with the requirements of international regulations, for both locally registered vessels and foreign visiting vessels. Inspection agendas can shift, depending on many factors, but usually include engine room space inspections to make sure they are manned correctly and operated in compliance with the set rules. This includes environmental pollution prevention and working conditions on board a vessel. Non-compliance may lead to costly delays or even detention.

2.         Safety

Everything has its place on a ship, especially in an engine room. Tripping hazards take on more grim dangers in engine rooms, as do loose machinery items rolling around deck plates. Speaking of deck plates – unsecured or ill-fitting plates pose further safety issues that can be easily identified just by maintaining a clean engine room.

3.         Environmental

As stated above, environmental pollution is closely monitored on vessels. Mostly thought of as only relating to spillages or dumped waste, what a lot of people forget, but which can be read in just about every marine pollution incident, is that before the spill there is usually a failure of some description.

For example, some equipment such as oily water separators and bilge pumps both draw out water that contains waste. If the Bilge areas are not regularly cleaned, debris can foul the pickups leading to potential environmental damage from system blockages.

4.         Preventative Maintenance

Identifying a fault in preventative maintenance is a major aspect of an engineer’s engine room rounds. You walk through an engine room using your sight, smell and touch – sometimes spider senses, to identify a potential issue before it escalates into a problem. But what if that grease-covered engine is masking an oil leak? Or the rusting flange is hiding a crack? What about if the bilge is laden with smelly bilge wastewater that was never removed and is now masking a coolant or fuel leak, pooling into the bilge? These easily preventable problems are now masked but could have been easily identified if the grease was cleaned up after the last service, the flange was rust treated, or the bilge water was removed into a holding tank via an OWS. Think of what preventing these problems would save you.

5.         Health

Health can be broken down into both physical and mental health practices.

Physical – Engine rooms can already be physically stressful environments for the people that work within them. This can be attributed not only to the hours worked but also to the heat, noise, and chemicals used within these spaces. 

Additional dust, dirt and spills not attended to only acerbate the physical effects on the crew as they are exposed to working in a dirty, unkempt working space. Breathing in fumes, or corrosive effects on skin absorption are but two examples that can affect a crew’s health.

Mental – A common phrase we all hear is ‘taking pride in our workspace’. This rings just as true in engine rooms. When the light lenses are not cleaned, it slowly lowers the lighting level. Leaky machinery, dirty working conditions – all of these are just examples of things that make a working environment less enjoyable. It is understood that when you work in a disorganized or untidy environment you are constantly reminded of tasks that need tending to, thus never feeling the satisfaction of a good day’s work completed. The long-term effect can result in fatigue, frustration, and even depression, and the mental state of one person can impact the culture of an entire crew. 

As you have read, identifying potential hazards from an ill-kept engine room is easy to list and can quickly become quite an extensive profile of problems when not regularly maintained.

A Solution

It’s easy to leave a few tools out when you know you will be back to carry on with the same job tomorrow. But, try taking time at the end of your shift to clean up for the day and tackle the same job in the morning with a clean work area – a fresh start each day will invigorate your work and also leave lasting impressions on all your work colleagues.

By adding a weekly ‘spring clean’ to your maintenance schedule, you will not only have a safer place to work, but will also improve culture and health at the same time. Unfortunately, as James Clear identified, “We don’t rise to the level of our goals, we fall to the level of our systems”. Unless you implement actionable and sustainable steps that can be easily followed, these changes will be short-lived. Making someone personally responsible for overseeing the cleanliness and maintenance of the engine room will ensure follow-through. We don’t always recommend a singular person be responsible, but to have a rotating roster (depending on your team structure). If each person feels what it is like to be responsible, they are far more likely to show respect toward the person rostered in charge that week and keep on top of their own workspace cleanliness.

How do you ensure engine room maintenance and upkeep on your vessel?  

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