Safety Leader

Toolbox Talk: Working Over or Near Water

Published On
May 14, 2021

Toolbox Talk is a series of informational guides designed to help contractors hold short safety meetings on the job site. Use the provided discussion questions to help start a safety conversation. 

Hazards and mitigation strategies

Working over and near water presents a number of unique occupational hazards. The most imminent risks include falls and accidental drowning. To avoid such incidents, you must wear a personal flotation device or a personal fall arrest system, or be protected by a safety net.

U.S. Coast Guard-approved personal flotation devices must be maintained and regularly inspected for defects. Check for dry rot, mildew and water saturation. If you observe any indication of any of these three conditions, the device is unusable. Return it to your supervisor to be tagged out of service or destroyed.

Ring buoys must also be present at work sites. They are required to be set a maximum of 200 feet apart around the work area and must be equipped with at least 90 feet of line for potential rescue operations. When you arrive on site, make note of their locations or ask your supervisor where they are.

Additionally, a minimum of one U.S. Coast Guard-approved skiff must be immediately available on the water at individual work sites. Each boat must be appropriate for carrying personnel/equipment and strictly adhere to weight restrictions. Boats must also have a line and anchor, at least one paddle or oar, a means of manually bailing water, navigation lights for night use and a cell phone or two-way radio to communicate with personnel on the shore. Again, make sure you check with your supervisor about the location of and access to all of this equipment.

Discussion questions
  • What are two alternatives to wearing personal flotation devices when working over or near water?

  • What are three things to look for when inspecting personal flotation devices for use when working over or near water?

  • What is the maximum distance apart that ring buoys can be set up around a work area?

  • What is the minimum length of line that a ring buoy should be equipped with for potential marine rescue missions?

  • Identify the minimum safety features required on skiffs/boats when used at work sites over or near water.

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