Working Aloft


Nobody ever deliberately sets out to have an accident or to injure themselves, but some people appear to try very hard.

What the reporter told us:

Whilst our vessel was alongside, I observed the following on an adjacent vessel. A crew member (or possibly a contractor) was standing on the outside of the back scratcher (ladder cage) of the mainmast ladder. He stretched from this position to change a lamp on the forward end of the mast. He descended the ladder and then returned, on both occasions climbing through the back scratcher. Upon inserting the lamp the light immediately illuminated, suggesting that the power was not switched off. On the first occasion, another crew member was standing at the starboard bridge wing door watching. He did nothing to stop the job and seemed to be taking an observing / standby role.

Further dialogue:

After identifying the ISM managers, CHIRP emailed the DPA who engaged immediately, allowing CHIRP to pass over details of the report. The following day the DPA contacted CHIRP with the information that the photographs in the report did indeed show a member of the ship’s crew. The DPA said this was very disappointing as the actions shown were completely contrary to the vessel’s SMS. Furthermore, earlier in the month the DPA had sent out a fleet-wide safety bulletin emphasising the need to complete risk assessments and permits to work for all hazardous activities.

Working aloft with no safety harness or PPE

CHIRP comment:

The prompt response and engagement by the DPA was very encouraging and their obvious disappointment at this incident occurring on a company vessel was clear. However, individuals should not be prepared or willing to engage in such unsafe actions so it would appear that the company’s safety message is not always getting through. Even if there are some maverick individuals who continue to work unsafely either through unawareness of the inherent risks, or deliberate disregard of the rules, other crew members have a responsibility to act for the safety of the individual and the whole crew. This responsibility has many names, but a term in general use today is “Stop Work Authority” and it is important that all crewmembers feel that they can use this without any fear of reprisal.

Genuine safety starts at the top and must be embraced by everyone within the company, from senior management ashore to the most junior member of the crew. It requires the company to provide the necessary tools to do the job in the shape of training courses (in house or external) if available, procedures, equipment and PPE and most importantly, the manpower and time to do the task while following the correct procedures. A number of courses for working at heights are available from offshore sector training establishments.

In this case, a proper risk assessment, toolbox talk, and an electrical lockout work permit all appear to have been missed. A perfectly reasonable question to ask is “Why was this, and could it happen on your ship?”

CHIRP has long been a champion of engineering solutions to remove hazards. Whilst a mast-head navigation light will still be at the top of the mast, fitting a platform with guard rails or installing horizontal foot and hand rails around the mast at an appropriate level with securing points for safety harness lanyards, would have made access for a routine task easier and safer.

CHIRP is aware that the 2019 annual report from the Marshall Island Registry has just been published. The report has accidental falls as the top critical issue – accidental falls were the leading cause of death during 2019, with seven lives lost from very serious marine casualties that were reported. In addition, 21% of all serious injuries were associated with accidental falls.