Safe working load

Fragile: Handle with care. Don’t drop it! “Oops, I dropped it.”

This scenario usually ends up in disappointment. The degree of disappointment depends on the monetary value of the broken item or your sentimental attachment to it.

Dropping your new big-screen TV would be a bummer. A container load of big-screen TVs that is dropped on you would be a tragedy. Your sentimental attachment to your life and limb should motivate you to be safe every day. If you don’t care, leave my vessel.

In this business we use a combination of shackles, wires, lifting slings, chain falls, hooks, cranes, beams, derricks, etc. When those items fail, someone can get injured or killed. Cargo, barges, and boats get damaged.

The drilling rig Kulluk broke its tow in December 2012 and went ashore in Alaska. Public testimony in the ongoing investigation points toward the mechanical failure of a towing shackle.

If you take good care of your lifting and towing gear you stand a better chance of not being flattened. Hard hats are a must but they won’t help you when a container of TVs fall on your head or with a whipping wire on deck. This hardware, or “jewelry”, receives some of the most abuse onboard. Lifting and towing gear gets thrown into lockers, under winches, and anywhere that is usually out of sight and mind.

You should check your rigging and handling gear daily, certainly before the start of a job, especially if it is a big job. There’s more to it than kicking the shackle or asking Joe if it looks OK. Assume nothing. With this stuff it’s your neck.

Visual inspections are the most frequent way to check things out. There are two sayings: “You get what you inspect” and “If it looks screwed up it probably is.” You are looking for serviceability and any damage or wear that compromises the items’ strength and integrity. This is known as Safe Working Load. SWL is the weight a shackle, wire, hook, slings and all the other jewelry can handle without putting it at risk of parting. For good measure it is often 1/5 of the minimum breaking strength — a 5:1 safety factor. It’s usually stamped or tagged on the items. Also, it’s important to be able to see the markings and to maintain documentation on all of it.

These things are ruggedly built. If properly sized to the task and if you inspect them often and keep them maintained, they will serve you well. But even with the best TLC the jewelry doesn’t last forever.

The SWL is determined at the time when it was new. Cracks, kinks, bends, worn spots, excessive corrosion and surface defects should be obvious. If you get to that point it will be an indication that you need to repair or replace the piece soon.

Two more hints. Get rid of the old stuff. Take it off the boat so it doesn’t get mixed in with the good stuff. It is not a safe spare. Also, keep an eye out for possible cheap fake knock-offs. They’re out there. It isn’t just a fake $10 Rolex for sale. So how’s your “jewelry” looking today?

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.

Leave A Reply

© Diversified Communications. All rights reserved.