Enclosed spaces consist a key area of risk for ship crews, often leading to death. International regulations define a dangerous (enclosed) space as ‘any enclosed or confined space in which it is foreseeable that the atmosphere may at some stage contain toxic or flammable gases or vapors, or be deficient in oxygen, to the extent that it may endanger the life or health of any person entering that space.’
Following the above definition, it becomes clear that a vessel contains several spaces which can be considered dangerous. Such spaces include tanks, holds, isolated compartments (e.g. bosun store), specific compartments (e.g. paint store) and others. Even the totally enclosed side of free fall life boats may be considered dangerous enclosed spaces, under specific conditions.
So, how may a seafarer be suspicious that a space he/she is about to enter is dangerous (if no relevant poster or sign exists)? A space like the above:
- has limited openings for entry and exit;
- has inadequate ventilation; and
- is not designed for continuous worker occupation
When entering these spaces, seafarers -if not prepared- put their health and life in danger, without knowing it from the first place. Commonly, no specific smell or other consideration is obvious, so initial sense of safety leads to disasters.
The situation gets more difficult if a rescue in such space is going to take place. The best way to approach the issue is team work. The majority of accidents in enclosed spaces (which most of them are deadly) occurred from one’s non-supervised actions. The permit system established onboard is the solution:
- Inform: The authority designated to provide permission for entering should be informed. Usually master on board approves the procedure. Some Companies may require an Office approval for such high risk operations
- Prepare: The team should be thoroughly prepared for both entrance and rescue. Breathing devices, atmosphere meters, means of communication, safety lines, stretchers and adequate lighting should be checked prior entering.
- Check: measure air conditions in different levels and spaces prior entering. Ensure adequate ventilation.
- Assess: A detailed risk assessment is to be conducted taking into consideration all above items plus any other hazard or risk that may be occur for each space’s considerations.
- Brief – Plan: A toolbox meeting is to be conducted to inform team for step by step execution of procedure. Special comments for roles /responsibilities or for space’s special considerations should be analyzed. A contingency plan is to be established and all communication systems (primary / secondary) to be tested.
- Get Final Approval / Permit for specific time frame of procedure execution.
- As the objective is the rescue from enclosed space, first aid kit and on board hospital readiness should be checked. Emergency backup considerations should be available (Telemedical assistance or MEDEVAC readiness) if required.
Real life incident
The Chief officer of a bulk carrier entered a cargo hold from access hatch, but in the middle of the way down, he collapsed. A bosun passing by saw the chief officer and tried to provide assistance, but collapsed also next to him. After some time and upon the absence of two crew members was noticed, the vessel’s space check by other crew members revealed the tragic incident: After obtaining relevant permit from the master, a rescue team assembled entered the space to evacuate the two crew members who were found unable to recover.
SQE has developed a sample of toolbox meeting in order to be used as guidance on board: