Health and safety

Time pressure a factor in cargo loading accident

24 June 2020

Time pressures may have been one of the factors leading to an accident in which two seafarers were injured during cargo operations in the Scottish port of Campbeltown last year, an investigation has revealed.

The two crewmen were struck by lifting gear used to move cargo hold hatch covers after the suspended load became snagged and a fibre sling failed during work to load a cargo of wind turbine towers onboard the 11,619gt general cargoship Zea Servant in March 2019.

One of the men suffered serious head injuries and had to undergo extensive specialist treatment in Glasgow, before eventually being repatriated to recover at home in China.

The UK Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) found that the two ABs had been standing in the hazardous fall zone beneath the suspended load, ready to guide the load clear of snagging hazards during the lift.

'The lifting gear had been stowed in the cargo hold ventilation duct space, where it was known to have snagged before,' the report notes. 'That the crew had previously experienced similar snags when attempting to lift the cargo hold hatch cover lifting gear should have acted as a warning.'

Investigators said a formal task-specific risk assessment and lifting plan had not been carried out for the handling of the lifting gear and the practice of stowing it on pallets in the ventilation duct space was not appropriate, due to the snagging hazards. The Hong Kong-flagged ship's safety management system did not contain a risk assessment or a procedure for the stowage and handling of the lifting gear, nor any guidance for the conduct of a lifting plan and the identification of fall zones.

Any of the crew could have called a halt to the work when the two ABs positioned themselves in the danger zone under the load, the report points out. 'However, the crew had a collective desire to get the task done; a "can do" attitude,' it adds. 'Furthermore, the deck preparations had been delayed by adverse winds and there was pressure to prepare the vessel for the cargo loading.'

MAIB noted that Zea Servant was a new ship, operating with an interim safety management certificate at the time of the accident.

'Although cargo hold hatch cover operations had been undertaken previously, in this early stage the crew and company were still learning about the vessel's equipment and developing experience with its operational procedures and safety management system,' the report adds.

Tests carried out after the accident found that the synthetic fibre sling used in the lift was in a poor condition, with local damage, and its residual strength was almost half of its design limit. Five other slings onboard the ship would have failed a visual inspection, as they were soiled and had illegible identification markings and the vessel had no record of the loose lifting gear, or the fibre sling used at the time of the accident.

MAIB said it had decided not to make any recommendations as a result of its investigation, as the ship's managers had taken a series of remedial measures in response to the accident.