One of many lessons in the MAIB report of the fatality aboard the workboat Llanddwyn Island is that just because you can’t see it, it doesn’t mean it can’t kill you: A deckhand, Edward Kay, died when a doubled-chain attaching a hawser to a dredger broke, snapping the hawser back and around the workboat’s wheelhouse and killed him.
Llanddwyn Island had been towing the dredger Manu Pekka. The two were connected by a hawser which terminated in a chain passed through a pad-eye on Manu Pekka and back on itself to the hawser.
The crew of Llanddwyn Island considered the chain to be the ‘weak link’. The configuration reduced the working load of the chain by 25 per cent an considerably reduced its ability to absorb shock-loads. its inclusion was not in accordance with best towing practice and was inappropriate for the work being conducted.
Edward was an experienced deckhand who was undoubtedly aware of the dangers associated with a tensioned line. It is not known why he moved to the forward part of the deck while Llanddwyn Island was still manoeuvring ahead against the hawser,
particularly as the skipper had not signalled to him that it was safe to do so.
It is possible that he assumed that the move was complete when he saw the dredger’s spud legs being lowered. This would usually have been the case, but because the skipper did not hear the message from the backhoe operator that he was in position and lowering the remaining spud legs, the skipper kept Llanddwyn Island pushing against the hawser.
It was clearly dangerous for Edward to move into the ‘snap-back’ zone but, given the visibility of the forward deck from the wheelhouse and the speed of events, it is possible that the skipper did not have sufficient time to challenge Edward’s actions.
Unlike the mooring decks on conventional vessels, it would have been impractical to identify and mark the ‘snap-back’ areas on Llanddwyn Island’s deck as recommended in the COSWP and MGN 308. Indeed, because of the diverse nature of her employment, there were probably no permanently safe areas on Llanddwyn Island’s deck. Consequently, the need to ensure the safety of personnel, and remind crew of the hazards encountered through procedural measures such as toolbox talks, briefings, and positive communication as detailed in MGN 308 was essential.
On lapses in safety management, MAIB identifies:
• Not all of the vessel’s activities had been considered in the risk assessments completed in 2006 (Annex B) and the assessments had not been reviewed periodically.
• The risk assessments were not reviewed following the serious accident on board Afon Caradog
On 19 February 2010, an engineer on board HTC’s workboat, Afon Caradog, was seriously injured. The vessel was engaged in a pushing operation in Saudi Arabia when the casualty, who was not involved in the operation, went on to the working deck. As the vessel manoeuvred, a wire rope came under tension and slid over the top of the waist post and struck the engineer on his right arm. The engineer was thrown on to a piece of deck machinery and sustained serious injuries to his head and neck. The casualty was hospitalised for over a week before he was able to be repatriated to the UK.
• The crew had not read the risk assessments.
• No guidance or written procedures were provided regarding towing and pushing arrangements or operations.
• The use of the doubled-up chain in the hawser was not in accordance with best practice.
• The chain used had not been provided by HTC, and the certificates for some of the loose towing equipment were not held on board.
• HTC did not provide towage training for its more experienced crew.
MAIB says: “The development and implementation of effective safety management and safe systems of work within the workboat environment is likely to be extremely challenging. Although HTC’s planned provision of safety manuals and procedures is an important step in this respect, it is unlikely to be successful unless it is accompanied by measures to assist the development of a strong safety culture among its skippers and crews”.
• The deckhand was in the ‘snap-back’ zone when the hawser parted. When a line is under tension or can tension without warning, it is dangerous to enter its ‘snap-back’ zone. Where it is impractical to mark ‘snap-back’ zones on decks, extra vigilance is required and anybody seeing another crewman approaching an area of potential recoil should not hesitate to warn the person concerned.
• The hawser was not made up in accordance with industry best practice. When selecting equipment for use in a hawser, it is prudent to make use of the guidance available, and careful consideration should be given to the loads that the hawser may be subjected to and the properties of the loose towing gear available.
• The doubled-up chain did not double its breaking strain. The loads acting on the centre link of a chain when doubled round a single point can reduce the overall strength of the chain depending on the dimensions of the equipment used.
• The chain was not part of the workboat’s loose gear and was uncertificated. Loose towing gear acquired in service might ‘come in handy’ but its use can be dangerous. Only gear which is accompanied by appropriate certificates and has been checked regularly can be used with confidence.
• The communications between all parties was ineffective. Good communication is vital if an operation is to be completed safely. A discussion or briefing before each operation makes everyone aware of the procedures to follow and of the risks involved.
The limitations of the training and qualifications required to operate workboats have been recognised by the National Workboat Association and the British Tugowners Association. In conjunction with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, these bodies are developing three towing endorsements for tug and workboat crews: general towage, sea towage and ship assist