An engine room rating was assigned a task in the machinery spaces. He requested a permit to work for working at heights and asked for scaffolding to be erected to allow safe access. The Chief Engineer refused to issue a permit. Relationships rapidly spiralled downhill.
What the Reporter told us:
I am assigned as an engine fitter and was told to do a job in the engine room but there was no proper permit for the job or proper safety requirements like scaffolding. When I refused to do this job, the Chief Engineer charged me with refusing to work and told me I would be relieved at the next port. I am currently excluded from engine room duty.
The reporter was six months into a nine-month contract and had previously worked on the ship. The job in question was the installation of a new steam condenser and fuel coolers with associated pipework and brackets – it involved working between 2m and 5m above the engine room deck plates.
Apparently, the reporter was summoned to the bridge for a hearing / investigation at which he was found guilty of ‘insubordination, incompetence and inefficiency’ and summarily dismissed with re-patriation at his own expense from the next port.
The correspondence from the reporter highlighted other concerns, many of which were outside CHIRP’s remit – the main safety concern was the reported poor safety regime in the engine room. For other issues, it was obvious from early in the correspondence that the situation onboard involved several separate but interrelated issues, and further that onboard relationships had completely broken down. CHIRP advised the reporter to contact his employment office, the ITF and ISWAN concerning his employment status and welfare issues. The reporter confirmed that his employment office and the ITF had been contacted and had responded.
With respect to the safety concerns, CHIRP contacted the company DPA who confirmed that the safety issues would be investigated.
Subsequently CHIRP learnt that the reporter was safely repatriated and as the safety issues were still under investigation, he had not been charged any airfare and in addition he had been given 2 months compensatory basic wages for early repatriation.
The members of the MAB noted the following points:
- the positive response and engagement by the DPA are commendable.
- any working aloft requires a permit to work.
- any working aloft requires a safe platform to work from, a ladder can be used to access the safe platform or even the job site for inspection purposes but most tasks that require two hands cannot be carried out safely from a ladder as a ladder requires three points of contact.
- a formal task or job risk assessment involving both the chief engineer and the reporter plus the ship’s safety officer would have highlighted the hazards, risks and safety requirements to mitigate them and would in all probability have prevented this situation from ever arising.
- on board a ship there is and must be a chain of command or hierarchy and this cannot be undermined. However, seniority carries responsibility and obligations with regards to man management and leadership skills which in this age of multi-cultural, multi-lingual and multi-national crews can be very difficult.
- there are very good HELM (Human Element, Leadership and Management) courses available which might be worthwhile for senior staff from all departments to attend either before promotion or as a periodic refresher.