Boiler Door, Steam Valve Accidents Spotlighted in P&I Safety Alert

By George Backwell at June 18, 2011 23:39
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An increased number of claims paid out for injuries suffered by merchant ship crew-members working on steam systems, recently prompted leading UK P&I (Protection & Indemnity) organization, ‘West of England’ to issue a safety alert on the particular dangers of scalding; two example of such accidents are taken from their report as follows.


Igniting a Boiler: Photo released by USN


Opening a Boiler Inspection Door

Two engineers were hit by an explosive escape of steam when they opened up a boiler inspection door to carry out routine maintenance, and one of them was severely scalded. Later investigation revealed that neither engineer had followed safety procedures, especially to check that the empty boiler had been de-pressurised before opening up.

The accident investigator observed that even if an air-cock had been opened to break the vacuum, the manhole door nuts (top door first) should have been loosened and the joint broken before the securing dogs were finally released.

Repairing a Steam Valve

While the ship was at anchor and under the illusion that it was safe to work on a certain section of the steam line, an engineer officer and engine room rating were opening up a leaking steam valve to replace the packing. They were soon to find to their cost that the line had not been isolated, de-pressurised or drained.

Removing the gate assembly, the engineer tapped the valve stem to loosen the valve when the whole gate assembly blew out. Both men were severely scalded, and one was hit by the valve bonnet and handwheel with enough force to cause him serious leg injuries.

Safety Management System (SMS) Sidelined

Doubtless much personal distress and mayhem would have been avoided in these two incidents had the work to be taken in hand been approved first by the ship’s chief engineer, and the proper SMS procedures carried through for issue of a ‘Permit to Work’ note.

The fact that ‘West of England’ considered it worthwhile to issue a safety alert, on what reads from these examples as elementary safety  blunders, seems to imply doubt that the SOLAS empowered ‘International Safety Management Code’ (ISM Code) is proving itself quite as effective in preventing accidents of this kind as was intended. It seems fair to comment that the mandatory Safety Management System in place had been sidelined, at least aboard the ships where these accidents happened.


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