Shocking spike in confined space fatalities revealed – but why?

Once again the subject of enclosed space fatalities is back in the marine news headlines for all the wrong reasons following a spike of fatalities and incidents over the past 18 months. And let me assure you, marine surveyors and inspectors are not immune from this awful possibility either. I thought carefully before penning and publishing this article as it provokes such strong emotions; but I for one find it very distressing to read about this phenomenon on a regular basis. Surely it could be – must be – prevented, or is this just one of those age old problems we have to accept?

A recent news story from the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) brings the numbers into stark reality and, as it clearly shows, 2018 was a shockingly bad year, in fact the worst since statistics became available back in 1999; and 2019 has started in a similar vein with more high profile cases. Seemingly we do we not learn and make progress in this area as an industry. Why?

To quote the article: “To put the recent deaths in perspective, there have been a total of 145 in the past 20 years, and alarmingly 28 in the past 16 months. We know that maritime workers are generally aware of the risks associated with entry into confined spaces, but they may not be aware of the details and extent of the varied dangers posed by forest products, coal, iron ore, grains, gases and other cargo. As such, ITF emphasized it is not enough for a worker to rely on opening the hatches for 30 minutes and hoping for the best, or to do the best they can to protect themselves on their own. It is also not enough for workers to take all available precautions but sometimes still be caught without sufficient protection by pockets of gases and lack of oxygen.”

At the very least it would seem sensible to take appropriate precautions before entering an enclosed or confined space – or simply refuse to enter one unless it is essential to do so. However, I wonder if it simply a lack of training and education, because I suspect it runs deeper than that. None of us is indestructible. We think it will not happen to us – until it does. As I said earlier, marine surveyors and inspectors are far from immune from the dangers of working in enclosed and confined spaces. So, I urge any marine surveyor or inspector to take extreme caution when entering an enclosed space and let me remind you that small and hard to get to spaces in yachts, small craft and workboats can present an equally challenging and potentially hazardous enclosed space environment as do commercial ships.

OK rant over, but please take care in your work, risk assess beforehand and take every precaution to ensure you do not add to the statistics!

Mike Schwarz
Chief Executive Officer

International Institute of Marine Surveying
Marine Surveying Academy