Employee participation and commitment from top management are important factors in effective occupational health and safety (OHS) management. However, between top management and employees there are middle managers, who are given little room in the top management/employee dichotomy. In this context, using the shipping industry as a case study, this paper investigates the impact of senior officer leadership on ratings’ participation in OHS management. Results suggest that while ratings’ precarious employment coupled with a steep hierarchy of command on board ships make upward communication in formal environments practically impossible, it is possible for senior officers to elicit effective participation from ratings by making good use of informal settings, working alongside ratings and engaging with them in social activities. Such leadership efforts bring in temporary relief to the constraints of participation and create spaces for them to contribute in the management of shipboard OHS.