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Published on 17/03/2021

Gas Detection in Confined Spaces

Gas Detection in Confined Spaces

You are the senior officer aboard a vessel at sea.

Your crew needs to enter a tank to carry out some essential tasks.

How your crew carries out confined space risk assessments could be the difference between a crew member coming out of that confined space safely or having an emergency on your hands.

In the current climate, it could also be your job and, even worse, your freedom on the line.

Senior Officers Are Absorbing All of The Risk

Many ships rely on their senior officers being competent, properly trained and aware of all the potential risks associated with working in those confined spaces. Sometimes though, officers are inadequately trained on working in confined spaces or are not fully competent or confident in their ability to spot potential hazards.

You need to be alert on-board a busy ship, and this shortsighted approach to safety creates significant potential for danger and disaster as we’ve seen before in various incidents.

Only last year in New Zealand, there was a case where a crewman fell ill working inside an enclosed space that contained palm kernel, which is known to deplete oxygen levels. The disaster resulted in the crew member being in hospital and action being taken against the captain and first officer because they lied about carrying out the proper risk assessments.

Current International maritime standards require crews sailing all over the world to have a thorough and extensive degree of training and certifications to permit them to sail.

Much of the focus within the industry at the moment is on how to rescue fallen crew members after an emergency has occurred. Wouldn’t it make more sense to focus on safeguarding the crews in the first place? Instead of learning how to deal with disaster, let’s learn how to avert disaster by undertaking proper risk assessment training, and start utilizing the right techniques and the right equipment to carry out these vital safety checks properly.

Mixed Messages in Multinational Territory

Most ships carry sailors from all over the world; a real international flavor among ships sailing the oceans which can present its own problems. How do you assess the risk for a multinational, multilingual and diverse crew of 20, 30 or even more?

The trend seems to be to trust the senior officer who makes the initial risk assessment, regardless of how well they have been trained or how confident they feel about carrying out these assessments.

They assess the risk, deem it safe, give the approval of entry and then most crew members would happily sign the required paperwork feeling safe in the knowledge that, if the senior officer is happy, it must be ok to enter a potentially dangerous and hazardous space.

We know that current guidelines state that safe entry is permitted when the oxygen levels in a confined space are between 19.5% and 22%.

So, would it be safe to assume that all is okay if the oxygen level is 19.8% or 21.2%?

What about flammable gases, carbon monoxide or hydrogen sulphide? Miss one of these, and it’s easy to see how a disaster can seemingly come from nowhere. By overlooking these signs, the senior officer is now putting themself in danger, as well as the rest of the crew from these unknown hazards.

They are also exposing vessel owners to potential lawsuits should something happen, as well as ships regularly being ground to a halt when impromptu or scheduled inspections highlight inadequate protocol. Both can be costly mistakes.

Taking the Onus Off Human Judgment

A fully trained and compliant senior officer armed with a portable gas detector could look at the lower percentage of oxygen as a potential sign of irregularity in the confined area. Further investigation might show harmful gases or chemical reactions that can deplete oxygen and increase hydrogen, which would be a potentially explosive situation.

In an instant, the space would be deemed unsafe to work in, and the issue would be flagged to the vessel owners. A disaster is averted, a crew is kept safe and a reputation, as well as lives, are kept intact.

To ensure the total safety of the crew, the senior officer carrying out the risk assessment must have the correct training and the correct equipment. They need to be fully aware of industry guidelines, potential hazards, danger signs and the plethora of toxic vapors that could be lying in wait inside that tank.

The MGC Simple+ can give an accurate and fast signal of whether a space is safe to enter or not, detecting up to five gases instantly and saving a crew from potential catastrophe.

Vessel owners can’t always afford to have ships checked before departure by a certified expert or have access to one while out at sea. The onus, therefore, falls to the senior officer on-board to be that expert and the first line of defense.

To be fully aware of the level of risk in a confined space, the senior officer should not only test the oxygen and gas levels from the entry point but on the inside too as they can look at any hidden hazards, both chemical and physical. Obviously, you want to keep the senior officer safe too though, which is where the use of a portable gas detector can provide the confidence that the spaces are safe to enter.

The MGC Simple+ is the foresight every vessel owner wishes they’d had after any emergencies, and for crews, it’s a lifesaver and peace of mind. Besides being proven lifesavers, they are MED approved and compliant with all flag state requirements.

With no need to charge or calibrate them, they’re your ‘all clear’ in seconds. Get in touch if you’d like to know more about how to keep your confined spaces and crew safe around the clock.