Don’t get wrapped around the axle

A machine guard is defined as “a device that prevents injury, damage or loss…an attachment or covering put on a machine to protect the operator.” All too often a machine guard disappears and the danger becomes invisible. You disassemble a piece of gear that had a guard and the guard walks away. The fasteners take a hike and you don’t bother to scout up replacement bolts. Or you make a bad decision because you’re lazy. Now you’ve got a rattlesnake just waiting to bite you.

Did you know machine guards are not just in the engine room? You can have a dozen or more machine guards all around your boat.

First, just to get your attention, I’ll recount a rotating machinery accident on a towboat that resulted in very serious injuries. A crewmember was making routine rounds through the engine room. Somehow her clothing got caught in a rotating shaft. In an instant she got tangled and dragged into the equipment. Her clothes were torn off her body. To make matters worse, she was alone. Luckily, another crewmember discovered her in time. She could have died. She sustained very serious injuries to her spine and neck, a broken shoulder, shattered pelvis and hip, crushed jaw and a collapsed lung. Because the shaft was rolling, she was also seriously burned on her chest, stomach and leg. It was gruesome, but thankfully she lived.

You’ll find most machine guards in the engine room. First, and perhaps most dangerous, are the main engine shafts. The coupling and shaft hooked to that powerful engine can be spinning at hundreds of rpm. Heavy duty deck plates, or at least sturdy expanded metal, should be mounted to cover every possible place that you are exposed to the rotating shaft. I wouldn’t roll the engine without these guards. Don’t forget the gen sets either. They can have exposed drive shafts too.

Looking further, your air compressor may have drive belts sitting right out in the open. They need guards. You surely have a variety of pumps that need guards. Your fire and bilge pump, fuel transfer and ballast pumps, maybe a sea water cooling pump, the a/c and refrigeration compressors if you’re so equipped are also dangerous when their shafts are exposed and turning without guards. Don’t forget those vent fans, which are rotating monsters that need to be tamed with guards in place. Consider painting the guards bright yellow, red or orange as even more warning.

On deck the big killers are your tow winch and towing engine if you’ve got one. They can be as dangerous as anything in the engine room. Go through the boat and look for others.

For good measure, look for guards and shields necessary to cover hot surfaces. Burns hurt. Also look for guards over electrical switchboards, panels and switches. Check out the bench grinder too for wheel and eye guards.

Take a half hour of your time to identify these things and get and keep solid guards on all of them. I wouldn’t want to see you get wrapped around the axle. Right guard is not just a deodorant.

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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