A fresh look at enclosed spaces

A man with self contained breathing apparatus and lifeline is climbing on the ladder into an enclosed space on cargo ship. Credit: Shutterstock/Paullawat

Despite the known risks, confined space deaths continue. Fixes must go beyond crew error to avoid future incidents

At 1630 h local time on 6 September 2019, a crew member was descending a ladder into the hold on UK-flagged general cargo vessel Emilie Bulker. With too much work to be done, there had been no atmospheric testing of the hold beforehand.

It would be almost impossible to tell there was a problem initially, but with each successive step down into the dark, the seafarer was breathing in less oxygen, and more carbon monoxide. Placement of hands and feet on the ladder became muddled and unsteady; disorientation set in; and, almost to the bottom, his grip loosened, and he fell, unconscious, the short distance to the floor of the hold.

Fortunately, a crewmate had been standing at the top of the ladder. He sprang into action, raising the alarm; 15 minutes later, New Zealand firefighters, equipped with the breathing apparatus the victim had lacked, were escorting their quarry to Tauranga Hospital, 6 km away. There, he was put in an induced coma, fortunately survived, and was discharged four days later.

This is an excerpt of the SAS May edition. To have access to the full article, and more SAS features, please subscribe here.