Working with hot bitumen warrants a risk assessment in addition to wearing proper personal protective equipment (PPE). The Nautical Institute gives this advice in its latest Mars Report, in which a crew member suffered burns after failing to do either.

The Nautical Institute gathers reports of maritime accidents and near-misses. It then publishes these so-called Mars Reports (anonymously) to prevent other accidents from happening. A summary of this incident:

Routine inspection and cleaning maintenance was to be undertaken on a vessel’s fuel pump strainer. In preparation for this task, the secondary heating unit (SHU) had been started the day before to melt the bitumen inside the strainer. Two engine crew were assigned the job, and the SHU was stopped before they began work on the pump strainer.

To begin, one crew member used a spanner to loosen the vent nut on the strainer. As the nut came loose, hot liquid bitumen was ejected from the vent. The bitumen hit the crew man’s right hand causing burns; the crew member was not wearing work gloves. He was immediately brought to the accommodation and given first aid. After consulting the company doctor, he was started on a course of antibiotics as a precautionary measure.

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Advice from The Nautical Institute

  • Wearing proper PPE is a minimum precaution in any work space.
  • Over and above wearing proper PPE, risk assessments (what could happen?), even if ever so cursory, should be done to prior to executing a task. In this instance, given the preheating of the bitumen, it would seem common sense to assume that hot bitumen would excrete from the loosened vent nut.

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Mars Reports

This accident was covered in the Mars Reports, originally published as Mars 202239, that are part of Report Number 359. A selection of this Mars Report was also published in SWZ|Maritime’s October 2022 issue. The Nautical Institute compiles these reports to help prevent maritime accidents. That is why they are also published (in full) on SWZ|Maritime’s website.

More reports are needed to keep the scheme interesting and informative. All reports are read only by the Mars coordinator and are treated in the strictest confidence. To submit a report, please use the Mars report form.

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