With at least two seafarer deaths a month on average, and probably far more if some of the larger flag states did their reporting job properly, confined space incidents clearly show the need for on-board safety culture and certainly a more pro-active attitude in the industry towards minimising these all too frequent tragedies.
Occupational Health and Safety (Maritime Industry) (National Standards) Amendment Regulations 2010 (No. 1) clarifies its view of a competent person in a way which is significantly different from that of the International Maritime Organisation. The Australian standard defines a competent person as:
..a person who:
(a) has, by a combination of training, education and experience, acquired knowledge and skills to enable him or her to:
(i) make an informed assessment of the likelihood of an airborne contaminant being present or subsequently arising in a confined space; or
(ii) correctly perform a specific task associated with a confined space; and
(b) meets any specific requirements imposed by a State or Territory law in relation to making the assessment or performing the specific task.
It is worth comparing this with the IMO definition:
Competent person means a person with sufficient theoretical knowledge and practical experience to make an informed assessment of the
likelihood of a dangerous atmosphere being present or subsequently arising in the space.
MAC believes that confined space definitions should be based on the hazards present that on juggling definitions until they fit. The new Australian rules include the following definition of confined space:
(c) within which there is a risk of 1 or more of the following:
(i) an oxygen concentration outside the safe oxygen range;
(ii) an airborne contaminant that could cause impairment, loss of consciousness or asphyxiation;
(iii) a flammable airborne contaminant that could cause injury from fire or explosion;
(iv) engulfment in a stored free flowing solid or a rising level of liquid that could cause suffocation or
whether or not the space has a restricted means of entry or exit(MAC’s emphasis).
This, in fact highlights an important point because a confined space can be created on deck in the open air and present serious hazards.
Steamship Mutual’s Risk Alert doesn’t say anything new, but that only serves to highlight the apparent intractability of the problem.
Says Steamship Mutual:
The Managers’ review of major claims incurred in 2009 shows that as in previous years the greatest number of these concerned crew. The majority of crew claims involved either loss of life or personal injury, and most frequently occurred when work was being undertaken in confined spaces.
The risks associated with such operations should be well known since much has been written about the dangers. To control the risks, pursuant to the ISM Code, Safety Management Systems contain detailed procedures on the subject of entry to confined spaces. Yet, despite these measures lives continue to be lost unnecessarily and so there is clearly need for continued loss prevention focus on this issue.