A deck officer on board a 1700 TEU container vessel died after he fell from a container bay hold hatch cover to the quayside during cargo operations. The deck officer had been working a six-on six-of watch pattern and was in charge of the vessel’s cargo watch when the accident happened.

At 0200, one of the vessel’s deck crew informed the cargo watch officer that the containers from one of the cargo bays had all been discharged and its hatch cover had been refitted. Te officer then went out on to the deck to close the cargo bay vent covers.

The cargo bay vents were located on the sides of the hatch cover, 2.5m above the main deck. To close them, the officer climbed onto the hatch cover. He then went to the edge of the hatch, bent down and released the ventilation cover. As he did so, he lost his balance and almost fell of the side of the hatch cover. A stevedore, who witnessed the event, asked the officer if he was okay. In reply, the officer gave the stevedore a ‘thumbs up’ signal.

The cargo watch officer then went to the second vent and attempted to close it in the same manner. As he did so, he fell of the hatch cover, hit the main deck handrails, flipped overboard and landed on the concrete wharf below.

The alarm was raised immediately, and an ambulance arrived on the scene shortly afterwards. However, the officer succumbed to his injuries and died.

Although the vessel’s recorded hours of rest for the cargo watch officer indicated that fatigue was unlikely, the investigation into the circumstances of the accident identified that tiredness could have been a factor.

Credit: UK MAIB

The Lessons

1. Working close to the unprotected edges of the vessel’s hatch covers presented a clear risk of falling to the main deck below. It was also apparent that such a fall would likely result in serious injury or worse. In accordance with the guidance set out in CoSWP 2015, the task the cargo watch officer attempted to carry out should have been subject to work at height safety precautions. If a task requires a person to work at the edge of a hatch cover then temporary safety rails should be rigged or personal fall restraint equipment used.

2. In this case, the task could have been carried out from the main deck below the vents; the vessel carried step ladders specifically for the task. It is always better to avoid hazards rather than trying to control them, and working close to the edges of unprotected hatch covers should be avoided whenever possible.

3. It is possible that fatigue or tiredness adversely affected the officer’s decision-making immediately prior to his fall and/ or his loss of balance. Fatigue is a killer, therefore it is essential to ensure that you and the people you are responsible for are sufficiently rested. In order to monitor the risk of fatigue it is important to accurately log hours of rest.