Published: 1 June 2019

Falling from a height, whether it is onto the deck or overboard, could cause serious injuries and in the worst case be fatal. It is important that Members have adequate safety measures in place, so that all associated risks can be sufficiently mitigated. Failure to comply with this can compromise the safety of your crew and put them in serious danger .

In general all work at heights should be carried out in good weather and lighting conditions.

Before any work commences it is important that a correct Permit to Work is issued, based on a thorough assessment of all associated risks and measures to mitigate these to an acceptable risk factor. A good risk assessment alone however will be ineffective if it is not effectively communicated and understood by all involved. All participants should also be suitably briefed and trained with the equipment to be used.

The Club has handled three recent fatal accidents, all of which highlight safety breaches that are often seen onboard when working aloft:

  1. An A/B working over the side in a Bosun’s chair drowned after the chair’s rigging lines parted. Investigation showed that a Risk Assessment had apparently been conducted, however many of the mitigation measures had not been implemented. The A/B was wearing a safety harness but his lifeline was not attached to the ship. He was also not wearing a suitable lifejacket;

Root causes:

    • Lack of supervision – Risk Assessments were not properly implemented.
    • Improper securing of Lifeline
    • Inadequate PPE
  1. On a small container vessel an A/B was walking on the catwalk next to an open and empty hold. The catwalk was 70 cm wide and not equipped with any railing or other fall arrest systems. Due to ongoing cargo operations the walkway was also obstructed by a number of lashing bars. The A/B tripped and fell 10 meters into the empty hold, and later passed away.

Root causes:

    • Potential negligence by the A/B, supervisors and co-workers in not appreciating the apparent danger
    • No company policy in place to prevent walking on coamings or catwalks adjacent to open cargo holds and spaces
  1. While painting the ship’s funnel an A/B fell from a Bosun’s chair as the holding lines parted. In falling, his safety belt broke as well. As the fall was about 3 meters he initially showed few sign of injuries however due to internal injuries to his kidney his condition worsened and he subsequently passed away;

Root causes:

    • Improper checking of the harness before use
    • Use of non-authorised harness; safety belts should only to be used together with a harness, and not solely as a fall arrest device

So what can Members do the reduce the risks involved?:

  • Clear procedures and well communicated – To ensure that when working at height, crew are familiar with the best practices and precautions to be taken, and the correct harness is used.
  • Correct storage and maintenance – Equipment to be stored and maintained in accordance with makers instruction. Regular checks are essential, and be aware that even contact with paint might weaken the strength of the harness.
  • Check equipment is appropriate –Verified as fit for purpose and properly examined to ensure it is in good condition before use.
  • Proper Supervision – To ensure safety measures are sufficiently implemented and appropriately monitored.
  • Speedy Response – In case of a fall to ensure a timely recovery in order to initiate suitable First Aid, and also prevent Suspension trauma, which can occur after 5-10 minutes when a human body is held motionless in a vertical position.