Dec 112007

Whenever one talks to maritime accident investigators about deaths in enclosed spaces one can hear the distinct sound of teeth grinding with furious frustration at a situation that should a rarity but which seems impervious to solution.

After The Case Of The Electric Assassin went online a leading accident investigator sent this comment:

“Your Zebu Express 1-1-1- trichloroethane case where the 2 guys were overcome in the bowthruster room reminds me that we had exactly the same case on the Cold Express back in 1994. 2 guys died while using Drew electric parts cleaner — 1-1-1 trichloroethane: they were overcome in the bowthruster room while cleaning up after a leak. The rescue attempts were like a Keystone cops movie with people not knowing what they were doing, SCBA bottles running out of air, etc.”

The Ice Express report is almost a photocopy of the Zebu Express incident and you can download the Ice Express report here .

There appear to be several other cases, which we’re checking out, that are remarkable in their similarity – two seafarers go into the bowthruster compartment, use a non-flammable solvent, take a break, return to work, and die, followed by rescue attempts characterised by incompetence and equipment failure.

1) Regard all solvents as deadly, especially chlorinate hydrocarbons.

2) Read the precautions on the label and follow them.

3) Read the MSDS, anything you don’t understand, ask about.

4) Know the symptoms of over-exposure, such as fatigue, dizziness, breathing difficulty, unsteadiness and evacuate the space if you feel them.

5) Watch for evidence of such symptoms in those you are working with and evacuate the space if they appear.

6) If possible, open doors and hatches to the space 24 hours before work starts.

7) Use whatever equipment is available to thoroughly ventilate the space, not only putting fresh air into it but removing contaminated air from it.

8) Always have someone on safety watch beside the point of entry with a means of communication – even if it’s a whistle – to call for help.

9) Always have SCBA and rescue equipment beside the point of entry ready for use.

10) Check that SCBA air bottles are full and the equipment working. Don’t wait, check it now.

11) If you don’t know how to use SCBA, find out and practice now.

12) If you haven’t practiced rescue from an enclosed space, do it now.

13) Read your ship’s SMS regarding enclosed space entry and emergency procedures. Do it now.

14) Strictly follow enclosed space entry procedures. Refresh your memory in the ship’s library, now.

15) When you tick off the boxes on an enclosed space entry checklist, make sure everything you’re ticking off is there or has been done.

16) Before entering an enclosed space, do a risk assessment, identify the hazards and make sure you either removed the hazard or can respond appropriately if it happens.

17) Check the air before entering and regularly while work is going on.

In EVERY case of enclose space entry deaths four or more of the above have not been followed.

  2 Responses to “Grinding teeth, staying alive in Enclosed Spaces”

  1. Great tips Bob! While you shouldn’t need it if you follow your tips… I would like to add one; a PASS Device. These units contain a motion sensor that sound a *very loud* alarm if you pass out. They also have a panic button and (my favorite feature) an “Accountability Key”.

    The key is neat.. you make the crew leave it with the Permit to Work on the bridge and they won’t be able to turn it off until they go retrieve the key… and pull the permit.

    Alternative uses: pin it to the crew member who is always “disappearing” before break!

    More info:

    I also always carry a personal O2 “chirper” because sniffing the tank at the point of entry is not enough precaution. MSA makes some great, low cost ($200USD), disposable ones: ALTAIR Single-Gas Detector

  2. That; sounds like a good idea – you’re quite right about the 02 sniffer – levels can vary within a space. In one (fatal) case the O2 level dropped from 21 per cent to 5 per cent within one metre.

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