Always use continuous fall protection when on a vertial ladder. The Nautical Institute gives this warning in its latest Mars Report, in which a bosun fell to his death when failing to do so.

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:

The deck crew of a bulk carrier were undertaking hold cleaning while at sea in ballast. Based on the completed risk assessment, the PPE required for the job included a safety harness with lifeline.

The Australian ladders (editor’s note: ladders with intermediate platforms) were to be used to enter and exit the holds and the vertical ladders were to be used only as an emergency exit.

Holds 1 to 5 were cleaned without incident. The atmosphere in the holds was tested before entry, as required by the enclosed space procedures, and the Australian ladders were used for entry and exit. The bosun and two crew then moved on to cleaning hold 6, before breaking for lunch. After lunch, the two crew returned to hold 6 and started their descent into the hold via the Australian ladders. Before they arrived at the bottom of the hold they saw the bosun lying motionless on the tank top of the hold at the bottom of the vertical ladder forward.

The alarm was raised, and first aid was delivered, but the victim had no pulse and was not breathing. CPR was administered for some time, but with no response, and was eventually declared deceased. The victim’s body was removed from hold 6 and, when examined, both legs appeared broken just above the ankles. Bones could be observed sticking through the skin near the heels of both feet. No other bleeding or external injuries were noted. These injuries point to a fall from a substantial height; the hold was about 16 metres deep.

Also read: Fatal fall from stern mounted lifeboat davit

Investigation findings

It could not be determined why the victim, a very experienced seafarer, chose to descend the vertical ladder instead of the Australian ladder. This went against recent practice and the agreed method to enter and exit the hold.

The investigation found that although the victim was wearing a safety harness, it was of the single strap/clip variety, not a double strap/clip. There were no indications that the safety harness, lifeline, or clip had failed.

Mars 202309

Advice from The Nautical Institute

  • The only way to reduce the risk of falling from a vertical ladder is to use either a double strap/clip arrangement such that one clip is always attached to a secure point or, if a single strap/clip, to use it in combination with a vertical continuous safety line/rail and fall arrestor, as in the photo.
  • If such equipment is not on board, Australian ladders should always be used to enter and exit a hold.
  • Never climb or descend a vertical ladder without continuous fall protection. Your life depends on it.

Also read: Bosun dies after falling into cargo hold

Mars Reports

This accident was covered in the Mars Reports, originally published as Mars 202309, that are part of Report Number 364. A selection of this Mars Report was also published in SWZ|Maritime’s March 2023 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.

Also read: Double lanyard-zero attachment results in fall from height on bulk carrier