Possible Entry Into Enclosed Spaces Without Full Precautions

What did the reporters tell us?

A crew member reported entry into two enclosed spaces onboard a ship at sea, without the necessary precautions, and raised concerns about the safety culture onboard. The company stated that entry did not occur in either case; procedural lapses may have occurred, but appropriate follow-up action had been taken before receipt of the CHIRP report. The case shows how circumstances can be interpreted differently.

Extracts from the information passed to CHIRP. ‘An Officer approached the Captain to discuss about two separate incidents in less than a week involving two different Officers gaining entry in to an enclosed space without adequate ventilation and safety equipment being present. Notably one Officer deemed a Fresh Water tank as not an enclosed space as there is a Goose Neck vent pipe attached to the tank. When asked about submitting a near miss form, the Captain told the Engineer that he would speak to the individual concerned’. [There were also concerns about whether the issue would be followed up, and lessons learnt at a later Safety Meeting].

The company responded. ‘On both occasions NO entry was made, both occasions entry was stopped when it was noticed there had been a miss in our procedures … A near miss was submitted immediately by the Master when this was brought to his attention. One of the incidents was brought to the attention of the Master 10 days after it happened … Since this near miss we have done the following: conducted further training with all deck and engine officers and crew; we are currently creating an eLearning course to enhance the enclosed space training package we can give; we have adjusted procedures to fall in line with the updated COSWP requirements … I am happy that our safety culture is working … the positive reaction to this incident was that we worked as a team, procedures were used, and no dangerous situation occurred’.

The lessons to be learnt

Notwithstanding the discrepancy between the report and the company’s comment, this case provides the opportunity to air this vital issue.


Enclosed spaces are the 2nd biggest killer at sea. Consequently the correct safety precautions are widely discussed. They are comprehensively described in the UK’s COSWPs for Seafarers, and they feature in the IMO’s SOLAS framework. From 1 January 2015, bi-monthly entry and rescue drills became mandatory. In addition remote testing equipment will be mandatory onboard ships from July 2016.

The CHIRP Maritime Advisory Board’s conclusions on this latest case emphasised the following points: ‘If in doubt, treat a space as enclosed’; for example the existence of a gooseneck vent on a water tank does not mean it is not ‘enclosed’. Nor is a space which is partially open necessarily safe. A crew member can be overcome in seconds. A meter around his or her neck will not necessarily prevent death, if the atmosphere ceases to have the required concentration of oxygen or contains toxic gases. Once again, ship’s robust safety culture is crucial. Competence, training and experience complement Safe Systems of Work, Permits to Work and risk assessments. Regular emergency exercises for confined space entry and rescue drills are vital in good safety management systems and practice. Beware of complacency; it leads to dangerous practices. Departmental briefings and debriefings, senior leadership by example, and consistent use of language (as in the word ‘enclosed’) are all important in building a good safety culture”.

CHIRP Suggests

Can you ‘Walk the Talk?’ Double-check procedures. Practise regularly. Lead by example. Make sure everyone onboard knows this is the second biggest killer at sea.