Hot work operations and confined space entry and work onboard marine vessels and in shipyards is done daily throughout the United States. Regulations such as the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Shipyard Employment Standard (29 CFR 1915); and Standards such as the National Fire Protection Association’s NFPA 306, Standard for the Control of Gas Hazards on Vessels, and NFPA 312, Standard for Fire Protection of Vessels During Construction, Conversion, Repair, and Lay-Up, are developed to eliminate or reduce the hazards associated with work in shipyards and related employment. But regulations and safety standards are only effective if they are followed.
In July 2018 the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued safety and health citations to shipyards and vessel repair contractors in Oregon and Kentucky. A shipyard in Portland, OR received 16 citations (more than $370,000 in fines) for ‘serious and willful’ safety violations following OSHA’s investigation of worker complaints related to workplace hazards during hot work in the engine room of a passenger ferry. Inspectors found that the company allowed employees to work on energized circuit boxes; failed to conduct fit-testing and medical evaluations before providing respirators and implement an effective hearing conservation program. According to media reports State workplace safety and health agencies in Alaska and Oregon have also cited the shipyard with similar violations. “This employer’s failure to monitor work areas for the presence of hazards, and implement effective controls is putting their employees at risk for serious injuries,” said OSHA Seattle Area Office Director Cecil Tipton.
Also in July 2018, unrelated to the above action, OSHA cited five contractors for safety and health violations after three employees were fatally injured and two others critically injured following an explosion onboard a towboat on 19 January 2018. The five companies collectively received 55 of violations with proposed penalties totaling $795,254.
OSHA's investigation determined that the explosion occurred when employees were cutting and welding in an atmosphere that contained flammable gases. OSHA issued citations for failing to test confined spaces before entry; training employees on confined space entry and work operations; exposing workers to asphyxiation, fire, explosion, and chemical hazards; and allowing hot work/welding to be performed without testing for an explosive atmosphere – in addition to other violations. One of the employers involved in this incident has been placed in the agency's Severe Violator Enforcement Program. "This tragedy could have been prevented if the employers had followed proper confined space procedures and implemented appropriate safety measures," said OSHA Regional Administrator Kurt A. Petermeyer. Confined space entry and work safe practices and hot work safety are the primary focus of the NFPA Marine Field Service which administers the NFPA Certificated Marine Chemist Program. The Marine Chemists were created in 1922 at the request of insurance underwriters, marine transportation and shipbuilding industries. NFPA Certificated Marine Chemists are responsible for verifying that hot work and confined space entry can be done safely on ships, barges and in shipyards. The United States Coast Guard and OSHA require a Marine Chemist’s Certificate is posted on a vessel in the vicinity of the work before certain hot work or confined space entry can occur. The United States Navy also requires a Marine Chemist to authorize entry and hot work on its vessels when work is being done by private contractors. Those contractors must also have their employees trained to work safely in confined spaces. In accordance with Navy Standard Items, this training must be presented by the National Fire Protection Association or an NFPA Certificated Marine Chemist.
There is no shortcut to safe hot work operations and confined space entry and work. All personnel involved with the work need to be familiar with applicable safety regulations, standards and procedures. They must also follow those administrative controls – every time. Accidents like the one which occurred in Kentucky earlier this year are preventable.
Shipyard personnel and vessel repair contractors need knowledge to recognize the hazards associated with hot work and confined space entry. They need to understand and use effective control measures to eliminate or minimize those hazards. NFPA provides information and training that can be used to make shipyards and similar locations safe places to work. For more information, please contact the NFPA Marine Field Service or call +1- 617- 984 - 7418.
Staff Liaison: Lawrence Russell