Every year, the No. 1 cause of death in this industry is going in the water.
I’ve blogged about it before, and a number of recent drowning fatalities is why I am blogging about it again.
If you fall overboard from the boat, barge, or dock, you have a good chance of not coming home from your hitch. The other causes of death on boats and barges are much less common than drowning.
Think about it — you work where it is slippery from water, mud, and perhaps oil. You take walking for granted and figure you’ll never (or rarely) trip, slip, and fall, but it’s unavoidable. You work day and night, with noise and distractions, in all kinds of weather. You rarely get to pick the time that you have to go out on deck.
Regulations say you must wear a Coast Guard-approved work vest at all times. Your Safety Management System drives that home, and there are signs on the boats, barges, and locks that reinforce it. But does everyone wear one? No.
Go overboard without a vest — even right next to the pier — and even if you’re an Olympic medallist in swimming, it won’t help. It can be dark and cold, with barges and boats moving around you. It's not exactly an Olympic swimming pool.
You are probably sick and tired of being hounded on this topic, but people keep going overboard and drowning. We get complacent about safety items, but you can maximize your chances of survival by paying attention and doing a few important things.
First, wear your work vest/life jacket 100% of the time when out on deck. No exceptions. If you see a shipmate without one, stop them and tell them to go put one on immediately. Set an example. If you are the leader in the wheelhouse and see a crewmember on deck not wearing flotation, take immediate action to rectify it.
Second, make sure the non-skid is in good shape. It wears out.
Third, keep the deck clear. Remove oil, mud, ice, and snow as soon as possible. Clean up tripping hazards. If your deck looks like a spaghetti factory, you are asking for trouble. Paint the fixed hazards OSHA yellow to clearly mark where they are. Make sure the lighting is good.
Fourth, keep in touch. Tell someone when you are going out on deck or onto the barges. Communicate using a walkie-talkie.
Finally, be alert. Maintain your situational awareness at all times, and watch where you are walking and what you are doing.
We all need reminding. Make this issue a topic of crew training. In the meantime, consider pinning this list up in the galley as one-page training. I just don’t want to see another drowning.