Working on board a ship comes with some inherent risks, not all of which can be listed on a risk register or covered by a formal job safety/hazard analysis, so keep your eyes open. So says Australia’s Transport Safety Board in its investigation report into a crewmember injury aboard the passenger/ro-ro Spirit of Tasmania I on 17 September 2011.
Always take a few moments to survey your surroundings and consider the risks associated with the task you are about to carry out then take steps to minimise those risks.
In this case, the chief engineer asked an integrated rating (IR) to get the large portable ventilation fan that was stored on the second deck and take it down to the floor plates. The fan was too large to be carried, so it was usual practice to use the engine room crane to lower it through an opening in one of the second deck catwalks.
The IR had carried out this task many times before. He went up to the second deck and moved the fan, which was bolted to a trolley, around the second deck walkway to the forward end of main engines 3 and 4 (Figure 2). He then stepped down onto the catwalk in order to move two sections of the catwalk floor grating (each about 1 m x 1 m in size). He lifted one grating and slid it aft, placing it partially on top of the adjacent grating. He then moved forward and lifted a second grating and slid it forward; again placing it partially on top of an adjacent grating. This exposed an opening of about 1 m between the gratings.
The IR then climbed the three steps up from the catwalk onto the second deck walkway. He stopped for a moment, considering what to do next, and decided to go to the workshop to get a spanner so that he could unbolt the fan from the trolley before lifting it off the trolley with the engine room crane.
At this time, the electrical engineer walked by the forward end of the engines and asked the IR what he was doing. The IR explained that he was lowering the fan to the bottom plates. In response, the electrical engineer told him that it was dangerous to leave the opening in the catwalk without a safety barrier around it.
The electrical engineer told the IR to get a rope, or some barrier tape, to cordon off the area. The electrical engineer then stepped down onto the catwalk to replace what he thought was a single grating. He lifted the forward end of the grating that the IR had moved forward and started to push it aft, back into position.
Then, without warning, the electrical engineer fell through the opening in the catwalk, landing on the deck about 2 m below. He did not recall slipping or feeling the gratings move under his feet. Therefore, it is possible that he stepped into the opening as he pushed the grating back into place.
The electrical engineer was shocked by the unexpected fall. His right shoulder and buttock were grazed and badly bruised, his left ring finger was broken and the top of his left middle finger had been amputated. He wrapped his left hand in some clean rags and then climbed the stairs up to the second deck. He instructed the IR to replace the grating and then walked to the engine control room.
In this case, if the IR had placed a safety barrier around the catwalk opening, the electrical engineer would not have placed himself in danger. Similarly, if the electrical engineer had thoroughly surveyed the area, he may have determined that two gratings had been moved, not one, and that he risked falling through the opening if he was not careful.
So, keep your eyes open.