Gibraltar Explosion – A Reality Check on Hotwork Near Confined Spaces

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Jun 062011

Investigations continue into the explosion and fire at a sullage plant on Gibraltar’s North Mole. The incident resulted in the injury of two welders who had been working on the tank, one of them life-threatening, and minor injuries to 12 passengers aboard the Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas. It is a reminder of the hazards that may exist in confined spaces that must be accounted for when hotwork is conducted.

Two recent incidents present similarities to the Gibraltar incident. In one, an oiler tried to cut the top off a drum that contained a mixture of carbon residues and traces of mineral oil. The oiler died in the resultant explosion. The sullage tank in Gibraltar also contained water and a hydrocarbon – used fuel oil. As in the drum incident, it may be that the water-oil mixture separated and allowed explosive vapours to build up within.

In a second incident,flammable gas from an unlit welding torch appears to have leaked and pooled in the bottom of a cargo tank while workers were taking a break from stitching plate at the upper part of the cargo tank.

While the Gibraltar explosion and fire took place onshore it remains a lessons for those working onboard ship.

When A Drum Is A Confined Space: Cape Darnley Fatality

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Jun 052011

Using a tool which generates heat, like an angle grinder, to remove the top of a 200 litre drum may be dangerous, particularly if the drum has previously contained a flammable liquid. The drum is an enclosed space, and the application of heat from a cutting tool on the outside of the drum, will potentially vaporise any flammable residue inside and provide a source of ignition the resulting air/fuel mixture. So warn the Australian Transport Safety Bureau in its report of the death of an oiler aboard the Cape Darnley on 8 July 2010.

In this case the drum had previously contained Mobilgard 412, a mineral oil, and had not been cleaned or rinsed out. Later in was filled with up to 70 litres of waste water and carbon residue from an exhaust gas boiler clean. sealed and kept in the engine room for seven days. During that time oil/carbon residues separated from the water and floated on top of it, producing an explosive vapour.

When the angle grinder was used to remove the top of the drum the vapour ignited resulting in the fatal explosion.

The most immediate lessons are that closed drum should be opened, rinsed thoroughly and left with the cap off to ventilate  and, preferably use something like a cold chisel rather than an angle grinder.

A second lesson, of course, is to be aware of the hazard and ensure that an appropriate job safety analysis is done.

Read the full report here.


AMSA Turns Up Heat On Hotwork

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Dec 272010

image Amsa is reminding masters and operators of the need to have an effective hot work procedure in place following two recent incidents where the lack of effective controls resulted in the death of one seafarer and serious injuries to another.

Says AMSA: “The term “hot work” is used to describe operations where heat and/or spark(s) may be produced and is not limited to welding and gas cutting operations and includes operations such as grinding and abrasive cutting. Hot work presents two specific hazards:

  • open flames or flying sparks that are able to ignite any flammable gases and vapours (that are produced by liquids and solids); and
  • the hot work itself may produce toxic fumes and gases.

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