A crew member slipped while working aloft and fell a few metres onto the deck below. They suffered light bruising and were a bit shocked but there was no lasting injury. They were following the ‘working at height’ procedures correctly and were wearing a safety harness but the leash had been attached to the deck they were standing on rather than above themselves.
This is an example of ‘doing the right thing’ while not ‘doing things right’. The crew member is to be applauded for wearing the PPE which is frequently overlooked but regrettably unsuitable in this instance. To allow the person to stand up, the leash would have been at least 2m long. Securing the leash below, rather than above, doubles the distance fallen to 4m. UK HSE studies indicate that from 4m there is a high risk of internal injury to the major organs or spinal damage due to the sudden jolt, even if the harness is correctly worn.
Without adequate training the crew member may not have known how to wear it properly. They may have been wearing it because they were told to do so, instead of recognising the need to wear it or have an understanding of the dangers of using it incorrectly.
The Superyacht MAB has had positive experiences with work at height training delivered onboard. Not only does this kind of training ensure that crew understand the correct techniques to use, it can also shift the mindset from crewmembers doing ‘what’ they are told towards understanding ‘why’ they need to. It can also provide an opportunity for crews to plan and practice what to do to safely retrieve a crewmember after a fall.
Human factors and other issues identified in this report
Design – The key message is to always clip onto a secure point above or inboard of you, to manage the length of the leash carefully and to never climb above the highest securing point. Does your yacht need additional securing points installing to allow safe access to parts of the vessel?
Competence – Was the crew member adequately trained to wear and use the harness correctly? Did they recognise the dangers of clipping onto a securing point below them?
Culture – Does your vessel have an emergency rescue plan to recover someone who has fallen in their harness?