Safety Observation : Shipyard Safety – Hot Work

The shipyard; a time for your ship to be rejuvenated. The rusting steel surfaces are prepped, blasted, replaced if necessary and given a fresh coat of paint. The aging systems – electronic, mechanical and electrical – are upgraded. Perhaps the crew is staying ashore, or perhaps they are subjected to the roar and din of the yard work 24 hours a day.

It is also a time of increased risks that will require identification, analysis and mitigation. Whether they are risks to your crew or risks to the shipyard workers, vessel personnel must be cognizant of them and proactive in addressing potential and emerging risks.

Hot work – cutting, welding and grinding – is a risky activity seen much more frequently during shipyard periods. Personal injury, fire and damage to surrounding areas are all potential risks of hot work. How do we ensure it is done safely?

Proper use of the following mitigation strategies can certainly help:

  • Adequate risk assessment and issuance of a hot work permit.  This needs to be an onsite risk assessment and inspection, not a simple pencil-whipping to satisfy future audits.
  • Good housekeeping including the removal of debris, trash and garbage from the worksite on a routine basis.
  • Maintain a dedicated fire watch for both the immediate area and any potentially affected neighbouring/connected areas throughout the full operation.

But, what happens when the mitigation strategies don’t work?

Rounds of a vessel in a shipyard with multiple repair jobs underway from the bow to the stern and bridge to engine room by the deck watch officer revealed a surprising discovery.  In one of the cargo holds, adjacent to a hydraulically actuated valve, was obvious smoke damage to the bulkhead, overhead and piping for a 3 square meter area.

Apparently, the hydraulically actuated valve had a slow leak.  The leak was mitigated by placing absorbent material under it and there was a plastic container, possibly containing hydraulic fluid in the vicinity as well.  And there was hot work taking place on the hatch coaming above.

With burning slag and sparks falling onto the flammable material, a small fire ensued which self-extinguished once the fuel was consumed.

A lack of site inspection prior to commencement of hot work by yard personnel, a lack of adequate fire watch and a lack of curiosity (Hey, where’s that black smoke coming from?) on the part of the cutter/welder all played roles in this incident.

So, safety observation, near miss or minor incident?  Could be any of the above.  What is certain is that it is a leading indicator of safety culture/awareness.  While this fire self-extinguished, the vessel or shipyard might not be as lucky the next time.

Let’s be safe out there.

Additional Reading and Links

NEPIA : LP Briefing : Controlling Hotwork (2016)

Nautical Institute MARS 200875 : Fatalities in cargo hold fire

Maritime Safety+ : 03-2016 : Shipyard Safety


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