How industry tackles enclosed space entry on board ships

Confined space work remains one of the most frequent, yet dangerous work-related activities undertaken. The US OHSA estimates that two million American workers enter confined spaces each year. And worryingly, within some countries, the number of people being seriously or fatally injured in confined spaces is increasing, while in other countries the numbers haven’t reduced for more than two decades, Lloyd’s Register notes.

According to HiLO data, during the last 2 years, 98% of all enclosed or confined space events were related to regulatory and procedural noncompliance while only 2% came from insufficient regulations and procedures. The data shows two issues driving noncompliance – risk culture and risk awareness, commented Manit Chander, Chief Executive Officer at HiLo Maritime Risk Management.

Any enclosed space is potentially life threatening. Seafarers are often ignoring the basic safety procedures and precautions when entering enclosed spaces. In many cases in the past, the person who tried to save the victim, became a victim himself.

 What makes confined space work particularly challenging is that many of the hazards can’t be seen, such as toxic or flammable gasses.

As an enclosed space is defined a space which has at least one of the following characteristics:

  1. limited openings for entry and exit;
  2. Unfavorable natural ventilation;
  3. is not designed for continuous worker occupancy.

Examples of enclosed spaces that can be found onboard:

  • Cargo spaces
  • Double bottom
  • Fuel tanks
  • Ballast tanks
  • Compressor rooms
  • Engine crankcases

All SOLAS ships must conduct enclosed spaced drills at intervals not exceeding two months. However, shipping experts argue that the sector needs a more thorough understanding of the current regulations and a more efficient safety culture to implement the existing regulatory framework, especially. Gard P&I Club has noted that the problem with regulatory enforcement is that ‘good intentions often become paper-pushing exercises’.

In addition, a recent survey conducted by InterManager, showed a wide-spread belief that a blame culture is deeply rooted within the shipping industry since respondents felt that the majority of accident investigations stop at finding the ‘guilty party’ and very rarely go further to discover why the accident occurred or what were the reasons for the actions of those killed or injured.

As such, to prevent death and injury, its is important to ensure that those involved in the drill understand that the purpose of enclosed space entry procedures is to prevent accidents and not simply satisfy the regulators. Any lessons learned should be shared across all involved and above all, seafarers need to have acquired proper training onboard to be able to recognize and evaluate hazards.

When it comes to drills, those should be conducted as if there was a real emergency, meaning that the following are being used and checked:

  • PPE required for entry
  • Communication equipment and procedures
  • Instruments for measuring the atmosphere
  • Rescue equipment and related procedures
  • Instruction in first-aid and resuscitation techniques


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