Sep 072009


At about 1308 on 12 February 2009, a deckhand on board the UK registered scallop dredger Maggie Ann fell overboard as he was emptying a dredge bag. He had been standing on the port dredge beam, which was suspended and almost level with the gunwale, when the dredge bag lifting becket parted.

The deckhand was not wearing a personal flotation device or a safety harness when he stepped onto the elevated dredge beam, and it was not the practice for deckhands to do so. On this occasion, he let go of the suspension chain to facilitate his emptying one of the dredge bags. As he grasped the dredge bag with both hands, the lifting becket parted, causing him to fall forward and with no protection from the bulwark, to continue to fall overboard.

Despite the quick reactions of the skipper and crew, the deckhand sank below the
sea surface before he could be rescued. Although an extensive search and rescue
operation followed, his body was not recovered. Analysis of evidence based on eye
witness accounts suggests that death was most likely due to cold water shock, leading to drowning or cardiac arrest.

Safety Lessons

1. The lifting becket parted at a point of attachment to the dredge bag which was prone to wear. A robust inspection and maintenance regime for the working gear might have identified the wear and have prevented the failure. Ensure you have a regime that does so.

2. Risk assessments for the bag lifting/dredge discharge activity had failed to identify the danger, because the assessment process was not fully understood. Risk assessment is an important tool in keeping fishing safe; make sure you understand how to conduct one, or else ask for assistance.

3. The fitting of a ‘tipping bar’, commonly used on scallop dredgers, would have enabled all the dredge bags to be inverted at the same time and have avoided the need for deckhands to step onto the dredge beam or to lean over the gunwale. The best way to control a risk is to remove the hazard altogether.

4. The wearing of a lifejacket would have significantly improved the deckhand’s
survivability. Develop a habit of always wearing one when working on deck.

5. Although the crew responded rapidly to the man overboard, they were ill-prepared to mount a successful recovery. Equipment required to assist the recovery of a person from the water was not available on board and no emergency drills had been conducted which might have ensured that correct equipment was available and well rehearsed procedures were followed.

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