‘Time pressure is no reason to relax safety standards’, warns The Nautical Institute in its latest Mars Report. In it, a crew member died after getting caught in a tarpaulin resulting in a fall from height.

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:

A general cargo vessel was loaded with timber in the holds and on deck. Before departure, crew were securing tarpaulins over the deck cargo of timber.

Conditions were windy and the deck crew working on top of the timber bundles did not have fall protection. At one point, the six crew (A to F in the reconstruction photo below) realised that one of the tarpaulins which had already been spread out needed to be rotated, which also meant they moved away from their original positions. During the rotation only two crew members were holding down the windward side of the tarpaulin; one in each corner, which reduced the crew’s ability to control the tarpaulin.

Mars Report fatal fall due to tarpaulin

Person A, who was moving aft along the edge of the deck, was caught in the tarpaulin, which then caught the wind and acted as a sail. The other crew present were likewise unable to withstand the forces that acted on the tarpaulin. As a result, person A was pushed over the edge of the deck and fell to the dock.

The crew immediately administered first aid to the victim until port rescue personnel arrived. The victim was transported to hospital by helicopter, but was declared deceased the next day from injuries sustained.

Also read: Routine task ends with fall

Investigation findings

The official investigation found, among other things, that time pressure may have played a role in the accident. The deck crew had noticed that the wind was increasing and they considered the working conditions to be risky. Yet, since an early morning departure for the next day had been announced, everyone was concentrated on “getting the job done” during the evening.

Another finding of the investigation was that even though the work at height checklist had been completed (i.e. crew were to use fall protection equipment), this was not done in practice. The crew found it cumbersome to use a safety line during this type of operation.

Also read: Never climb a vertical ladder without continuous fall protection

Advice from The Nautical Institute

  • Time pressure is no reason to relax safety standards, as tempting as it may be to “get the job done”.
  • Safety leadership means ensuring good practices and that the vessel’s SMS is always put into practice.
  • A checklist mentality – where you consider ticking the boxes more important than the task they relate to – must be avoided. Remember, most checklists are the result of a risk assessment that was done to reduce harm. Only check ‘yes’ on something if you have actually done it!

Also read: Fatal fall from stern mounted lifeboat davit

Mars Reports

This accident was covered in the Mars Reports, originally published as Mars 202402, that are part of Report Number 375. A selection of the Mars Reports are also published in the SWZ|Maritime magazine. 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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