Risk assessments, often, and unwisely, seen as little more than mere paperwork by busy seafarers are the focus of MAIB Chief Inspector Stephen Meyer in his introduction to the latest MAIB Safety Digest.
Writes Meyer: “It is only a year since I last wrote about the importance of risk assessments. However, in the past 12 months, so many deaths have been reported that could have been avoided by a simple consideration of the risks, that I feel compelled to return to the subject.
Just the phrase “risk assessment” is enough to cause most mariners’ eyes to glaze over. “More paperwork and bureaucracy” I hear you cry. But what I am after is the thought process, not the paperwork. Let me give you a couple of examples.
“This morning I was briefed on the death of a fisherman. The owner and the skipper of the vessel had so nearly got it right, but for want of following things through, a man died last week. The fishing boat had one of the best risk assessments I have seen, and the fish deck had been specifically designed to eliminate major hazards. Unfortunately, in the months since the vessel had been built, the method of working had been modified, and the hazards associated with the new system had not been risk assessed. Additionally, neither the skipper nor the owner were monitoring how the crew were operating, and one of the crew had developed his own system of repairing fishing gear. These two minor changes to a well risk assessed system cost one man his life – what a price for 20 minutes or so, to risk assess those changes.
”My second example is given in Case 25. Two leisure craft were involved in this case, with two separate risks that had not been considered. In the first, a man fell overboard when doing the simplest of routine daily tasks. Had the risk been thought about, there were several simple ways of reducing it. He was not wearing a lifejacket, and owed his life to the alertness of two men in another yacht, who heard his cries and went to rescue him.
”Unfortunately, despite there being two men on board, they were unable to get him out of the water. Recovering a person from the water to a yacht or even a small power boat is much more difficult than people imagine. Have you worked out how you would do it – and have you briefed your crew in case it is you in the water? A simple mental run through the risks involved in sailing, and a crew talk at the start of a day’s sailing, would dramatically reduce the likelihood of an accident.”
In the aftermath of an accident, we are almost always told what steps people intend to take to stop such an accident happening again. Please read through the accounts of incidents in this Safety Digest, and take appropriate steps now, rather than waiting until you learn the hard way.