The Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) has published its investigation report into the fall of a ship’s chief officer in June 2014, which resulted in fractures to both legs. The officer fell from a cargo hatch top to the deck below on board ship Norjan, which had been loading motoryachts with a specialist company employed to supervise the operation.

Courtesy of MAIB

The report found that the company’s representative and the ship’s crew did not properly plan, supervise or carry out the loading operation. Subsequently, no consideration was given to the possibility of falling from the cargo hatch top to the deck, 2.4m below. With the possibility for superyacht crew to be placed in similar situations on yacht transport vessels, the lessons to be learned from the incident should be considered and reflected upon.

“In accordance with Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations (LOLER), all lifting operations need to be properly planned, appropriately supervised and carried out in a safe manner,” MAIB explains. “The COSWP and the ILO accident prevention code of practice both warn that loads being lowered or hoisted should not pass or remain over any person engaged in loading or unloading.

“The lifting operation on board Norjan was not properly planned, appropriately supervised or carried out in a safe manner. The fall hazards had not been identified, the deck was untidy, roles and responsibilities were unclear and personnel were routinely required to work under the suspended motoryachts.”

In light of the incident, the MAIB has identified a number of safety issues pertinent to crew working in such operations:

  • The chief officer fell from the hatch cover to the main deck 2.4m below because he stumbled and lost his balance while working close to the unfenced edge of Norjan’s hatch covers and was injured because there was nothing in place to arrest his fall;
  • Working on the hatch covers was a day-to-day activity; without edge protection, the risk of falling off the hatch covers was ever present;
  • The crew and the loadmaster gave insufficient regard to the risks posed when working on the hatch covers; their perception was that the risk of falling off the hatch covers could be controlled by remaining alert to the hazard and taking care when working close to the edges;
  • The vessel did not carry the type of ready use portable safety barriers prescribed in its risk assessments; had it done so the likelihood of the crew fencing off the exposed edges of the hatch covers; and therefore preventing the accident, would have increased.

Where the officer is said to have fallen from. Courtesy of MAIB

Precautions to be taken when working at height

"Whenever people are required to work in an area where there is a reasonable risk that they could fall a distance liable to cause personal injury, as was the case during the cargo loading operation on board Norjan, their tasks should be properly planned and supervised," the report points out. "During the planning stage, appropriate control measures should be identified and precautions put in place to protect those undertaking the work and anyone that may be affected by the work."

When identifying the safety controls required to minimise the risk of falling from height, MAIB advises that the simple hierarchical principle of avoid, prevent and minimize should be applied:

Avoid: If you do not have to go up there, then do not.

Prevent: If it is not possible to avoid work at height, use work equipment or other measures to prevent falls; for example, rig temporary fencing or use fall prevention PPE.

Minimise: If the risk of a fall cannot be eliminated, use work equipment or other measures to minimise the distance and consequences of a fall should one occur; for example, rig safety nets or air bags, or use fall arrest PPE.

"Personal protection is provided through the use of safety harnesses and lanyards," the report concludes. "If working close to the unfenced edge of the hatch cover could not have been avoided, then steps to prevent a fall should have been taken. Had the crew fenced off the exposed edges of the hatch covers or used a fall prevention PPE, the chief officer would not have fallen off the hatch cover. Had safety nets, air bags or other fall arrest equipment been rigged, the chief officer might not have been injured."

To read the MAIB investigation report in full, click here.