Real Life Incident: A Fatal Fall

A bulk carrier was underway and the crew were cleaning cargo holds in preparation for the next loading port. The bosun and four deck crew began by moving a ‘mucking winch’ to the sludge hatch of one of the cargo holds. The winch was used to lower equipment into the empty hold. First, two portable ladders were lowered to the tank top. Then two crew from the work party went down into the hold to disconnect the ladders.

The bosun hoisted the wire back up and prepared a large bucket of tools weighing about 10kg to lower into the hold. The deck around the sludge hatch was dry and free of cargo residues or other debris – but the Bosun was singlehandedly attempting to attach a heavy load to a hook that was suspended over an open hatch. As the bosun was holding the bucket of tools over the open sludge hatch and trying to connect it to the hook he lost his balance. He fell through the hatch, falling about 18.5 metres to the tank top below.

A Fatal Fall

The two crew who were already in the hold heard the Bosun yell, followed by a loud noise. They turned to find the Bosun lying motionless on the tank top, with his head on one of the portable ladders. The alarm was raised and assistance given. The Bosun was conscious and responsive but he had multiple injuries to his torso and extremities. He was taken to the ship’s hospital and arrangements were made to evacuate him to the nearest shore hospital. Unfortunately, within three hours he had succumbed to his injuries.

Lessons learned

  • Certain jobs can lose the appearance of risk when they are commonplace to workers and/or have become repetitive tasks.
  • Any workplace where a potential fall from height is possible should be treated with great caution and proper measures taken to mitigate falling.
  • Trying to lift a weight that is on the limit? Ask for help.

Reference: The Nautical Institute

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