November 2021: Falling from height through an open hatch

This safety update highlights the importance of having effective control measures to protect workers and others from the risks of falling from height through an open hatch.


On 27 February 2020, a worker was seriously injured after falling through an open hatch on a passenger vessel in New Zealand. At the time of the incident, the worker was cleaning the main saloon of the vessel, which was owned by a tourism operator.

While moving from one area to another, the worker stepped back and fell 2.1 metres through an open hatch, landing on their back at the bottom of the hold. The worker suffered a back injury. The hatch had been left open by a colleague the night before and had not been closed during morning preparations.



Maritime New Zealand’s investigation highlighted a series of failures that led to the incident:

  • The operator had identified the hatches as hazards in its hazard register, and induction training was in place regarding their safe use. However, the operator had not inducted its workers in safe ways of working on a vessel.
  • There were orange safety cones on the vessel but these were only used to signal the hatches were open when contractors (such as electricians) were working on board and the hatchways were in use.
  • The worker was not aware, or told by their colleagues, that the hatch was open.

At court, the operator was fined $160,000 and ordered to pay costs. The court also ordered the operator to pay approximately $35,000 in reparations for emotional harm and consequential loss to the worker.

The operator has since changed its practices to address the issues that led to the incident.

Maritime New Zealand Southern Compliance Manager, Domonic Venz, said the risk of falling from height through open hatches is a well-known issue on ships. “We encourage all businesses to proactively protect their workers and passengers from harm so that they return home unhurt,” he said. He said the incident had severe consequences for the worker and there were many actions this operator could have taken to prevent harm.

He said, “This is a powerful example of New Zealand employers’ responsibilities to provide good workplace training and safe work practices so that their workers can work safely in any part of the business.”


Safety reminder

  • PCBUs must maintain effective control measures to minimise the health and safety risks to workers and others of their work.
  • Control measures for hatches include:
    • making sure the hatch is securely closed when not in use
    • when a hatch needs to remain open for a period of time, providing a physical barrier (such as a guardrail) around the hatch, and communicating with workers and others to make sure they are aware the hatch is open.
  • PCBUs must, so far as is reasonably practicable, make sure workers have the information, training, instruction or supervision necessary to protect all persons from the health and safety risks of their work.


More information

Reasonably practicable [PDF: 44kB, 2 pages]


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