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Health and safety

Fatal fall on Dutch cargoship highlights risks of working alone

28 July 2020

Dutch safety officials have warned seafarers of the risks of working alone following an investigation into a fatal accident onboard a general cargoship.

A Filipino deckhand died when he fell 12m after opening a door into one of the holds of the 8,620gt Spliethoff vessel Fortunagracht while preparing to load the ship in Puerto de Sucre, Venezuela, in February 2018.

Investigators found that the seafarer had been looking for stacking cones in the hold entrance, equipped with just a small flashlight while the lights in the area were switched off. The lighting could only be switched on from the bridge, to reduce the risks of sparking with certain cargoes.

A Dutch Safety Board report on the accident states that the deckhand had been carrying out ad hoc tasks which were insufficiently discussed in advance with the bosun and had not been reported to the duty officer.

Noting the importance of remaining alert to the actions of other crew members, the report says seafarers should 'call each other immediately to account if those actions are not in line with the safety agreements'.

A last-minute risk assessment should have been carried out, the report says, and it would have identified the fact that the hold was empty, unlit areas should not be entered with just a torch, and that it was not safe to work alone.

Investigators said there had been insufficient precautions to prevent someone from stepping through a door opening into a hold with no tweendeck when the deck configuration was changed to meet cargo needs. Although the ship's safe working manual required doors leading to the holds to be fully closed and locked before pontoons were removed, the report says supervision of this was insufficient onboard Fortunagracht.

The report notes that Spliethoff urges its crews to avoid working alone as much as possible, and that in situations where this cannot be avoided, those working on deck should carry a walkie-talkie. However, it points out, there are insufficient walkie-talkies onboard Fortunagracht to provide one to all crew members working on deck.

It recommends that Spliethoff should seek to prevent crew members from working alone on deck, in the hold or in the engineroom, but if it necessary, carrying a walkie-talkie should be compulsory and the company should organise the personal issuing of the equipment.

Better checks and controls should be carried out before unplanned work takes place, the report adds, and it says seafarers on Dutch-flagged ships should not hesitate to use the services of the Radio Medical Service (RMD) in the event of an accident onboard.


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