It’s too easy to forget that working in a confined or enclosed space can also exposed you to work aloft dangers, too. The Chief Engineer of the Bow Cecil took a step in the dark in a tank and never survived the subsequent fall.
On 8 March, 2010 Bow Cecil was en route from Houston, Texas to Salvador, Brazil. The electrician had, during an assignment in the fore peak tank, discovered a leak in an overboard line going through a tank, a little above stringer 10200, 10,20 m above the keel). The chief officer, the chief engineer and the first engineer decided to carry out an inspection of the leak, and make plans for the repair.
The repair itself would be carried out later.
The procedure for entry into enclosed spaces was followed, and the inspection started.
During the inspection, the chief engineer pointed his flashlight at a flange near the port side shell of the tank, and took a few steps in that direction. He suddenly fell through an opening in the stringer, and landed at the bottom of the tank, about eight meters below.
The opening in the stringer had no guard rails or any other fall protection. The mate on duty was informed, and he sounded the general alarm.
First aid was administered to the chief engineer, and he was transported to the sick bay. The Radio Medico Service was contacted for advice on first aid and treatment, but to no avail. The life of the chief engineer could not be saved. He was declared dead at 1715.
During the treatment the first aid crew discovered that the satellite radio hand-set could not be used in the sick bay because there was no connection to the base station. It was necessary to be outside the sick bay to be in contact with Radio Medico.
Regulations do not require means of communication with the outside world from the sick bay.
When Bow Cecil was built in 1998 there were no regulations requiring guard rails or other fall prevention for openings in stringers similar to the actual one on board Bow Cecil. The ship owner chose however, after inputs from crews, to build the following ships in this series with guard rails surrounding the stringer openings. Some of the earlier built ships in the series have had guard rails retrofitted during shipyard stays.
The owner has decided in the aftermath of this accident that all the ships of this type will be retrofitted with guard rails surrounding the stringer openings.
In 2004 The IMO adopted regulations requiring arrangement of guard rails or grid covers on stringers used for permanent means of access during inspections. These regulations have not been made retroactive.
At the time of the accident the owner’s and ship’s safety and quality management system did not list risk of falling from height as a factor to be considered when entering enclosed spaces. This has now been included in the safety and quality management system, with a particular focus on tanks being entered from the top.
The IMO recommendations for entering enclosed spaces aboard ships are primarily focusing on risks related to poisonous or oxygen depleted atmosphere, the risk of falling is not mentioned.