Real Life Incident: One Metre Fall Proves Fatal

Hold-cleaning operations were being conducted during a ballast voyage in favourable weather. The crew were using a ladder and a high-pressure water jet to remove cargo residue from the sloping upper hopper bulkhead.

The ladder was secured at the top by a rope and was stabilised by a crew member at the bottom. Another crew member climbed the ladder and directed the water-jet on to the bulkhead to remove cargo residue.

The crew member on the ladder was wearing a safety harness attached to a line that was passed through a pad-eye on the bulkhead above and back down to a third crew member on the tank top.

Representation Image – Photograph by Delimajunel

This person gave or retrieved slack on the safety line as necessary. Hold cleaning in this manner was a well-established practice on this vessel.

After cleaning one section, the crew member on the ladder was climbing down in order to reposition the ladder for the next section. When he was about one metre above the tank top he stopped and disconnected the safety line.

He immediately lost his balance and fell backwards on to the tank top, striking his head. The victim was unconscious and was evacuated by helicopter. Despite all efforts he was declared deceased on arrival at the hospital.

The investigation found, among other things, that the victim’s safety helmet was not secured by the chin strap and was dislodged during the fall. Had the helmet remained attached to his head it could have provided sufficient protection to reduce his injuries from a fall from such a relatively low height.

Lessons learned

  • Even falls from low or moderate heights can result in serious injury or death. Do not become complacent about the dangers of working at height.
  • Do not remove safety devices, such as a safety line, until you are truly safe.
  • A hard helmet will provide a greater level of protection if it is secured by a chin strap. For another incident where an attached chin strap might have reduced the consequences, see MARS 201547.
  • While ladders are necessary for providing access, it is not best practice to use them as work platforms.


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