Confined Space Entry Hazards – The Death Of An Expert

John Konrad
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January 20, 2010

Even experts can become casualties of hazards in confined spaces and you don’t have to be inside a confined space for the hazards to hurt you warns the latest podcast from Maritime Accident CasebookThe Case of the Forgotten Assassin. Confined space hazards and how to avoid them will be the focus of the web-based maritime safety resource for 2010.

The Case of the Forgotten Assassin is based on an incident in which a well-experienced consultant died on an LNG carrier in a shipyard due to an explosion in a boiler steam drum following chemical cleaning procedures. Although aware of the hazard of explosive gases being generated during cleaning and the need for adequate ventilation, he did not use the appropriate procedures to mitigate the hazard

His last words were: “I cannot believe I have been caught like this”. The Case of the Forgotten Assassin explores what happened and why.

Says Maritime Accident Casebook administrator Bob Couttie: “One lesson from this case is that confined spaces don’t respect experts. He was largely left to his own devices because he was an expert and there was little examination of whether he was working safely. On other occasions he probably did, but this time, prehaps because of a distraction, he forgot to take particular precautions. Very simple measures would have removed the hazard entirely.

“Another lesson is that confined space entry procedures, like checking the atmosphere for explosive gases and ensuring such gases are ventilated from the space in this case, should apply even if you’re only putting your hand inside. Whatever’s within the space can still reach out and touch you, in this instance fatally. If this victim had realised that just by putting part of his body inside the steam drum he was making an entry into an enclosed space then he’d almost certainly have invoked the correct procedures to keep him alive.”

The Case of the Forgotten Assassin also emphasises that safety is everyone’s business even when an expert is in charge. Says Couttie: “Several people noticed things that were not quite right but didn’t ask the victim about it or alert him, possibly because they thought ‘he’s the expert so we don’t need to tell him’. When you see something not qute right, then speak up, someone’s life may depend on it and it might be yours.”

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