Death from above

Your chances of getting hit and killed by a meteor are pretty slim, but you can get hit, killed or hurt by more earthly objects. You’ve been told time and time again that situational awareness (SA) can save your life or prevent an accident. Loss of SA greatly increases the risk of an accident. Many accidents by experienced and licensed mariners in the wheelhouse are directly caused by a loss of SA, when operators lose track of the big picture, a problem I’ve blogged about before.

In this recent fatal accident, two individuals lost their lives and two more were hurt in a most horrible manner. A five-ton buoy, almost 15 feet in diameter, fell 70 feet onto the people standing under it. That’s a chunk of metal the size of a large truck falling seven stories. Your chances of survival are zero for a direct hit. I don’t want to imagine what the accident site looked like. A bad way to go.

The object was being lowered by contractors from a laid-up ship. How hard could that be? Crane lifts are common daily events. Admittedly, a five-ton piece of gear getting craned off a ship isn’t your every day lift. But suspended loads are routine and it doesn’t take a five-ton chunk of metal to kill you, a small piece of pipe or a valve can be just as deadly.

Was this accident with two fatalities and two more badly injured preventable? Yes. So, what went wrong? Though I haven’t seen an investigation into this accident, I’d guess plenty went wrong. Remember that evil accident chain I wrote about previously.

Some lessons we can learn from this tragedy:

 

  • Don’t stand in the wrong place at the wrong time. 
  • Keep your eyes peeled. That’s for SA.  
  • Use the procedures laid out in your Safety Management System.  
  • Make sure your lifting gear is correct, in good condition and rigged right. Double check it with a second set of eyes.  
  • Ensure you are qualified for the job and know how to handle a load while it is off the deck.  
  • Watch out for the safety of other guys helping you or even just near the worksite.  
  • Use your PPE. While your hard hat, as important a piece of PPE that it is, isn’t going to stop five tons falling fast, a short sprint across the barge or deck without your hard hat is a bad gamble that could cost you your life — or at least be very painful on the brain. 

 

When you are in an industrial environment, including and especially on deck, everybody knows these safety items are just common sense. Still, sometimes corners are cut to save some time or work. That’s when bad things happen. If you cheat safety, you get hurt or worse.

When things go bad there aren’t many “lessons learned.” They are just lessons RE-learned. Learn them well and stay out from under all suspended loads.

I’ll take my chances with the meteor.

Sail Safe.

About the author

Capt. Peter Squicciarini

Capt. Peter Squicciarini is a licensed master mariner and marine safety specialist at the U.S. Coast Guard Atlantic Area Command in Portsmouth, Va. He has worked on towing, passenger, and fishing vessels, and was a safety and compliance manager for an East Coast tug and barge company. He also served in the Navy as a surface ship officer and commanded several warships. He can be reached at pdsquicciarini@msn.com.

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