Shipyard Deaths


Elaine Barnes

This topic may have been covered before, but I missed it. I noticed that five deaths occured during consrution of Titanic. Does anyone know if accidents during constuction of these large ships was a common occurance? Were sailors, who are by all accounts very superstitious, not afraid the ship was cursed because of the deaths during construction and what exactly is a "catch boy"?

Mike Herbold

Dec 13, 1999
I'm in the construction industry myself and certain types of heavy construction have high serious-injury and death records to this day. 18 years ago I was involved in a huge overseas project with a workforce of over 5500, that had 5 fatalities in a 2 year period. It was not considered unusual.

With that many people involved in anything its almost a statistical probability that a very serious accident will occur. It's common practice to shut a project down for the day after a bad accident, but the accident itself is never considered a curse.

Lily Steen

Aug 3, 2000
My late grandfather worked as Joiner/carpenter on the Titanic when it was being built at shipyard in Belfast. Is there anyplace where I can check out the names of the men who worked on the building of the ship here in Belfast?

Dave Gittins

Mar 16, 2000
Lily, I'm afraid you're out of luck. Harland & Wolff often get asked about this and have stated that they simply don't have the records.

Elaine, the catch boy was a chap who caught red hot rivets thrown to him by the man responsible for heating them in a little furnace. Then they were put into the rivet holes and one man held the rivets in place with a big hammer while two men on the other side of the plate hammered the end of the rivets into shape. It was a job that called for a lot of skill and trust between members of the team if the work was to be safe.

The term "boy" did not always mean a young lad, though many were. They were all called boys, regardless of age.

Geoff White

Feb 9, 2002
Hi everyone,
correct me if I'm wrong but was there not an "acceptable" ratio of fatalities per tonnage in shipbuilding in the early days?
Jan 5, 2001
Hi Geoff!

I've heard the 'usual figure' of one fatality per one hundred thousand workers in shipyards of the period (don't know over how long a time), but I cannot remember where.

Personally, I wouldn't have regarded any death as acceptable, but considering the time that does not sound bad.

Best regards,

Sep 28, 2002
Northern Ireland
Titanic's death rate at the time of construction was considered to be good. 50% of the average.

BTW Samuel Joseph Scott was the first Titanic fatality, he was only 15 years old and was a catch boy. Robert Murphy was also killed, having lost his son one year earlier on Olympic.

Stephen Stanger

Jimmy Dobbins bought it during the launching.
One of the supports came right down on top of him.
Jun 10, 1999
Aside from shipbuilding, dam bldg., high rise construction, and even bridge construction configured, among all other things...fatalities! I believe high rise construction is *one man per 1 million spent* As for the building of the GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE, Straus implemented the very first *hard hat* (actually leather design) and adapted a *safety net* precaution. However supervised neglect of the workforce request, resulted in multiple fatalities. The Carpenters/Iron Workers had complained of the insufficient *bolt* connection of the catwalk which suspended them from this very safety net. After two and one-half yrs. of a near *flawless* safety record...the bridge would assess it's toll. I can't recall this moment, but it was 10-15 men lost that day...and captured via a still image.

I remember some lame Contractor I worked for wanted me to, basically take a two-story plunge. Having two decades of experience under my belt, I said..."It's not safe, if your so insistant, put your bags on, get up here and walk the frail 2 x 4 member top chord truss, lacking proper bearing support" (Needless to say the wind was blowing 70 mph that day)

So if the Carpenters tell you it's not safe...then is not safe.

Michael A. Cundiff

frank piggott

Nov 12, 2004
Deaths in shipbuilding were common right into the eighties. From the nineties onwards conditions improved greatly.
One death per new ship seemed about average up to 1988ish.

Anders Mansfeldt

I can almost guarantee that a whole lot of people died during the construction of titanic. I have now a co-worker who worked on shipyard during the 1970 someting, he said that at least 4-5 persons died every year, mainly from falling down or getting squeezed to death, but also from exploding velding equipment and from inhaling fumes from toxic paint and so on. And this was with the safety equipment of today, so when titanic was constructed nearly 100 yeas ago the death-rate must been alot bigger.
Jul 9, 2000
Easley South Carolina
>>so when titanic was constructed nearly 100 yeas ago the death-rate must been alot bigger.<<

Actually, in relationship to the Titanic herself, it was surprisingly low. That doesn't mean that a lot of the workers didn't suffer from exposure to toxic substances like asbestos, certain lubricant's hydraulic fluids, paint and so on. An environmental health and occupational safety inspector would be horrified at the working conditions in a turn of the century shipyard, but those who worked there took it in stride.
Sep 28, 2002
Northern Ireland
As I wrote earlier 5 people died while working ob 401 / Titanic, although some other fatalities occurred in the different work areas of the Yard, ie machine shop, engine shop etc.

Yes there were quite a lot of industrial sicknesses caused by working there. Both my Grandfather and Father were almost completely deaf. I know my father suffered from working with asbestos.

I might add that today more toxics are added and a lot of people still ignore their safety equipment.

The biggest cause of deaths was falls, either people falling or parts of equipment falling. It even happened at the launch of Canberra in 1960.