Hygienic studies on seagoing vessels

Project No. BIA 2052


completed 12/2004


According to observations by occupational physicians in the Accident Insurance and Prevention Association for Seafarers, almost 50% of illnesses observed on board German vessels are disorders of the upper respiratory tract. A relationship has been suspected between these disorders and the on-board air-conditioning systems. The impact of microorganisms on indoor air was therefore to be determined under different climatic conditions and on different types of vessels.


In January 2002, microbiological studies were launched into the indoor atmosphere quality on a number of types of vessel under a range of climatic conditions. Air samples were taken in working and private rest as well as in social life areas. The quality of the outdoor air was assumed as a reference. Air and water samples (e.g. water in humidifiers and filter samples from the air-conditioning system, shower water, smear samples from fans) were analysed, in some cases directly on board and in others in the microbiological laboratory of the BG Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (BIA), for the occurrence of bacteria, fungi, yeasts and endotoxins. Two different measurement systems involving different measurement principles were employed for air sampling: the total dust sampling (PGP-GSP), BIA (filtration) and MAS 100, Merck (impaction) systems.


To date, seven measurement runs have been performed on three ferries, three container vessels and one research vessel, under different climatic conditions. The preliminary results show that in contrast to onshore areas, bacteria dominate in the ambient air on board the vessels. The highest microorganism counts were generally measured in the employees' living quarters (cabins). An apparent relationship further exists between the ambient air quality and the route: the longer the journey and the greater the number of climatic zones through which the vessel passed, the higher the recorded microorganism concentrations. However, neither legionalla nor endotoxins were detected to date on the vessels studied in the project. Nasal smears were taken from volunteers and analysed microbially at the same time as the air samples were taken. A correlation emerged between colonization of the nasal mucous membranes and the ambient air quality. The results are to be published in a specialist journal.

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Financed by:
  • Hauptverband der gewerblichen Berufsgenossenschaften (HVBG)
Research institution(s):
  • Berufsgenossenschaftliches Institut für Arbeitsschutz - BIA
  • See-Berufsgenossenschaft


Type of hazard:

Biologische Arbeitsstoffe, Arbeitsbedingte Gesundheitsgefahren


Exposition, Biologische Arbeitsstoffe, Klima

Description, key words:

seamen, diseases of the upper respiratory tract, air-conditioned (AC) rooms, microbiological studies, level of maintenance of AC facilities, air and water samples, seagoing vessels, climatic zones