Confined Space Entry: U.S. Coast Guard Warns After Three Die Of Asphyxiation

U.S. Coast Guard Warns on Confined Space Entry After Three Die

The danger of confined spaces is in the news again after three crew members died of asphyxiation on a drilling rig.

They were part of a ten man team preparing equipment for heavy lift transport. After a de-ballasting system failed, they rigged a portable diesel engine pump to discharge tanks. Unfortunately, the hatches used for ventilation were inadequate and one of the crew collapsed after being overcome by fumes while supervising the operation.

The second and third victims died while attempting to rescue him after descending into the enclosed space without safety equipment. The Captain and Ship Superintendent narrowly escaped and were airlifted to hospital.

This is sadly typical of enclosed space fatalities and is similar to other recent accidents in Japan, UK, Denmark, Belgium and Malaysia.

Because many toxic gases are colourless and odourless, it can be easy to miss the danger signals, especially if you’re under stress or focused on a complicated task. Rescuers are commonly the next victims as they react quickly – and usually in a state of panic – so they don’t follow essential safety procedures or use the necessary equipment. Studies suggest that over 50% of the deaths in confined spaces are the result of crew members attempting to rescue colleagues.

This latest incident has prompted the US Coast Guard to issue a Marine Safety Alert about the dangers of confined spaces. They advise:

  • Obtaining the requisite level of knowledge and training of confined space entry procedures including emergency and rescue procedures
  • Ensuring crews undergo periodic confined space training and participate in routine and practical onboard emergency drills
  • Verifying that all required confined space entry and rescue safety equipment is onboard, maintained, tested and fully functional
  • Continually appreciating the dangers involved in confined space entry and educating yourself by further study.

Modern vessels contain more enclosed spaces than ever before. This, combined with the pressures of larger loads, smaller crews and tighter turnaround times, means that deaths in confined spaces are still happening despite the IMO’s attempts to prevent them. The latest regulations require all SOLAS applicable vessels to carry portable gas detectors for monitoring enclosed spaces:

“Every ship to which Chapter 1 applies shall carry an appropriate portable atmosphere testing instrument or instruments. As a minimum, these shall be capable to measuring concentrations of oxygen, flammable gases or vapours, hydrogen sulphide and carbon monoxide. Instruments carried under other requirements may satisfy this regulation. Suitable means shall be provided for the calibration of all such instruments.”

Effective gas detectors and calibration instruments are essential on all cargo vessels. This equipment should also be as versatile and easy to use as possible so that all crew members are protected.

Contact us to find out more about keeping your crews safe in confined spaces.