Machinery space finger injuries

This joint article includes reports relating to fingers being caught in the belt of an air conditioning blower and fingertips amputated during maintenance of the auxiliary engine.

What did the reporters tell us?

(1)  The electrical officer (E/O) and fitter were performing routine maintenance on the air conditioner blowers. After completion of greasing of the two blowers, the E/O switched on the power of the system to test the system. The no. 2 blower was observed by the E/O to be drawing excess current. To investigate the case, he switched off the power to the No. 2 blower with the intention to check the tension of the belt between the blower’s motor and the fan. For this purpose, after the blower stopped, the E/O moved the belt of the No. 2 blower with his right hand and pushed down the belt with his fingers of his left hand while the belt was in motion. While doing this action his left hand fingers got caught between the fan pulley (on the fan side) and the belt (see figure). This severed the tip of the ring finger and the middle finger of the left hand (at the top knuckle of each finger).er-fingers-1

(2) Ship’s staff were carrying out repairs to an auxiliary engine as there was water observed in the scavenge manifold. Whilst dismantling the protecting ring of the cylinder liner of the auxiliary engine, four fingers of the chief engineer’s (C/E’s) left hand got caught in the tool he was using to pull out the protecting ring, just as the piston accidentally moved upwards. Due to miscommunication, the flywheel was turned in the opposite direction, causing the piston to move upwards and thus trapping the C/E’s finger in the tool. The tips of all four of his fingers were severed and the vessel had to be diverted in order to medevac the C/E.


The lessons to be learnt

Report 1: All crew were briefed about hazards while working with parts that may move or start automatically and warned about the precautions to be taken, especially when working around moving parts. As a good practice, instead of fingers, it would be safer to use a screwdriver, or socket drive end of the fan pulley to check for free movement when testing the tension, or freedom of the belts. All equipment should be isolated and tagged out before personnel are engaged in the repair work.

Report 2: A risk assessment should be carried out, with the results and required safety precautions being discussed in a toolbox talk with all those concerned in the work. The supervisor should not get involved in the work; instead he should step back in order to keep an overview of the work being performed.

CHIRP Suggests

In all machinery space activities, allow time for toolbox talks; ensure there is good regular communication; ensure suitable gloves are used; provide proper supervision; and ensure there is a “stop work authority”. These are all highlighted as important precautions to take. The use of a Permit to Work would introduce added controls to stop machinery being operated without checks being in place.

The UK MCA’s Code of Safe Working Practices for Merchant Seafarers (2015 edition) Chapter 20, “Work on Machinery and Power Systems”, provides important general machinery advice.

CHIRP expressed concern over the planning and execution of the work and the fact that the chief engineer, as the supervisor, became directly involved and therefore was no longer conducting effective oversight of the work.