Lesson Learned: Unsafe Working Conditions Lead To Severe Injury On Cargo Vessel


  • A cargo vessel crew member suffered an open fracture to their upper arm due to unsafe working conditions while working in the hold.
  • The safety harness was insufficient, the risk assessment failed to account for various factors, and there were no procedures or equipment in place for recovery in case of injury.

Late afternoon, a cargo vessel in port had completed discharging its cargo of animal feed. Operational staff finished for the day, switching off the terminal’s floodlights as they left. Dark and raining, the crew began work on the empty hold. Following the risk assessment for working in the hold, a single spotlight was installed at the aft end, and the crew started moving the hold’s internal bulkheads. A couple of hours later, the ship’s cook/AB was working at the bulkhead at the forward end of the hold.

Wearing a safety harness with a lanyard and safety hook, the AB used the footholds in the side of the cargo hold to climb about 2.5m to access one of the bulkhead locking bolts. Unable to reach the bolt, the AB disconnected the safety hook to move it to another position. The AB’s foot slipped from the foothold, and their hand slipped from the single handhold before the safety hook could be attached to a securing point. The AB fell to the hold bottom, resulting in an open fracture to their upper arm. The ship’s master called emergency services. Due to the difficulties of lifting a casualty out of the hold bottom, medical attention was administered at the scene for over an hour before the AB could be recovered to a waiting ambulance and transferred to hospital for further treatment.

Equipment Shortcomings

The safety harness worn in this case was equipped with only one lanyard and hook, limiting the wearer’s ability to move around safely at height. A harness with twin lanyards and safety hooks enables movement at height while providing a means of fall prevention.

Risk Assessment Failures

It was inappropriate for the AB to be working at height in the dark and rain with no shore floodlights and only a single spotlight at the aft end of the hold. The ship’s working at height risk assessments did not include such factors, demonstrating that all realistic scenarios in which the crew might be expected to work had not been considered, resulting in documentation of little safety value.

Lack of Proper Procedures

The ship did not have procedures or equipment to recover an injured person from the cargo hold. Without suitable crew training and recovery equipment, it is possible for a survivable injury to become a fatality. Planning and being prepared to respond in the event that something goes wrong is crucial.

This incident underscores the critical importance of ensuring safety equipment and procedures are in place, particularly when working at height. Such precautions are vital to prevent severe injuries and fatalities.

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Source: MAIB