A life at sea was once described ingloriously as “similar to a life in prison albeit with the added risk of drowning.” And with all the trials and tribulations facing today’s resolute band of more than 1.5 million seafarers, you could be excused for understanding the comparison. Yet in today’s age of empathy, necessity, and realization that seafarers are an essential entity, and not a take-for-granted commodity, why are ship owners’ and ship managers’ most valuable asset still dying needlessly all for the lack of the proper training?
I am talking specifically about the unsafe entry into enclosed spaces onboard ship – a practice that happens perfectly fine every day at sea but if not carried out correctly can cause grief and distress. It can be a natural reaction for a seafarer to forget his own safety and dash after an injured or dying crew member into an enclosed space onboard ship that may be filled with noxious and poisonous fumes, but there will only be one outcome: two casualties instead of one.
According to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), enclosed spaces are characterized by having limited openings for entry and exit, inadequate ventilation, or a design not intended for continuous worker occupancy. Examples include cargo spaces, double bottoms, fuel tanks, ballast tanks, cargo pump-rooms, compressor rooms, chain lockers, and any other confined spaces that may be oxygen deficient or have unsafe atmospheres.
It was heartening to read that the UK-based officers’ union Nautilus had issued a call to the UK Shipping Minister to change the law to protect seafarers in such peril following the death of two seafarers in a cargo hold of a vessel. In a letter to the Minister, Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson said the case followed a “very familiar pattern of one crew member collapsing in an oxygen-deficient area, and two more being overcome after entering the space without personal protection equipment in an attempt to rescue their colleagues.”
The union is right to raise the issue because the dangers of seafarers entering enclosed spaces without the necessary training and equipment remain of utmost concern. Seafarers are dying unnecessarily and Videotel will continue to hammer home the need for the industry and government to work together to ensure such incidents are a thing of the past. One death from such a situation is one death too many.
To address this critical safety issue, Videotel produced “Entry into Enclosed Spaces” – an entire training series in interactive CD-ROM and Videotel on Demand (VOD) format with supporting booklets. Intended for both onboard crew and shore-based personnel, the seven-edition series explains all relevant regulations and guidelines, raises awareness of the hazards of enclosed spaces entry, explains enclosed space entry procedures and the equipment required for safe entry into enclosed spaces, and provides details about emergency procedures, rescue techniques, and the use of a self-contained breathing apparatus. It has been followed up by the innovative and unique “Enclosed Space Management System,” which was produced in conjunction with the UK’s Mines Rescue Service. The system is designed to help effectively assess, audit, and manage the safety of enclosed spaces and combat the number of accidents and fatalities that all too often occur when problem areas are overlooked.
Given the unacceptable number of fatalities recorded in recent years, the “Entry into Enclosed Spaces” series was considered so vitally important that we produced not one, but seven programs. The series plus the “Enclosed Space Management System” all rate at the very top of our “must-see” training programs.