Case Study: Unstable And Unsecured Scaffolding Falls, Causing One Fatality

On a general cargo ship at anchor, the crew cleaned No 1 hold using the ship’s mobile scaffolding tower to access areas around the top of the hold and under the main deck. The next day they started similar work in No 2 hold. The ship had a slight trim aft, so the angle on the tank top was about 1.5 degrees by the stern.

container cargo ship
Representation Image – Credits: Ramanus Bite

Once cleaning at the forward end of the hold was completed the scaffolding was moved aft to continue the work. Immediately after this repositioning, two seamen climbed the tower to resume work on the underside of the deckhead. As they reached the top platform, the entire tower fell towards the after bulkhead. The two men fell about 12 metres to the tank top as the platform scraped down the bulkhead. Although the victims received first aid and were evacuated to a hospital, one was later pronounced deceased.

The investigation found that the scaffolding was of sound construction, in reasonable condition and correctly erected. Rubber tracked castors fitted at each bottom corner allowed the structure to be moved easily and the castors could be locked to prevent unintended movement. To help secure and stabilize this inherently unstable structure with a high centre of gravity and narrow base, rope lashings or guy ropes were normally secured to the scaffolding at the section below the working platform.

These ropes were then led through permanent eyes welded around the inside of the cargo holds and then down to the tank top level. It appears that after the last move the two men had climbed back to the platform before, or while, the rope lashings were being re-secured.

It also is likely that the castors had not been locked. Although both men were reportedly wearing hard hats, safety belts and lanyards, these were not secured.

Lessons learned

  • The scaffolding had a height to base length ratio of about 5.2:1. Best practice requires securing guy ropes for a structure of this kind.
  • Castors on scaffolds should be locked before use.
  • Once in place at height, always secure yourself to a safe spot with fall prevention devices.


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