SOLAS and enclosed spaces

The risk

Over the years the Association has had to deal with a number of accidents resulting in fatalities which followed the entry in to an enclosed space starved of oxygen or containing harmful gases, typically due to a failure to follow safety procedures, and this has affected both crew as well as people coming on board such as stevedores.

Incidents have included oxygen starved holds resulting from the carriage of organic cargoes including wheat, timber and logs, but also of mineral cargoes such as DRI or coal. At other times, accidents happened while tanks and / or cargo holds were being inspected or maintenance was carried out.

Tragically, these accidents have at times been compounded, because once it became clear that someone was in trouble, someone else rushed to help them – but without themselves first taking proper precautions and using appropriate safety equipment.

The fatality risk

At sea-level, humans require air that contains a certain minimum quantity of oxygen, and that is a requirement for at least 19.5% oxygen. Regulatory development

Following deterioration in accidents over time, the IMO developed Regulation III/19 of SOLAS as a way of changing this trend. As of 1 January 2015 mandatory entry and rescue drills will be required every two months. All crew members who have responsibilities for entry in to enclosed spaces, or rescue there from, will have to participate in these drills. Drills shall include the following:

-checks and use of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment).

-checks and use of communications equipment and procedure.

-checks and use of atmosphere measuring devices

-checks and use of rescue equipment.

-instruction on first aid and resuscitation.

It must be stressed that all such drills are meant to be properly planned and carried out with a “safety first” approach. The intention of the new regulation is to ensure that all relevant personnel have the necessary awareness of the risks, and are properly trained to follow all the procedures to ensure that any actual enclosed space entry will be done in as safe a manner as possible.

Loss prevention

Given that the risk of an accident is very high, as well as the risk of such accident leading to a fatality, it cannot be stressed enough how serious this issue needs to be taken.

Every crewman should be aware of the risk that an oxygen starved environment presents, and only those crew who have received the necessary training should conduct any entry in to an enclosed space or perform any rescue operation.

As for either a drill or an actual entry, this needs to cover the following:

-be properly planned, in particular for a time and place where safety can be prioritized.

-a safety assessment needs to be conducted.

-all crew concerned should, with the appropriate Officer, conduct a safety briefing before proceeding.

- -throughout the entry and until its completion, careful monitoring of the crew involved until all are safe and accounted for outside of the enclosed space.

-proper logs and records should be kept of every drill and every actual entry.