Lessons Learned: Stairwell Fall Causes Serious Injury

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AMSA provides lessons learned from an incident where, a passenger seriously injured after falling down stairwell.

The incident

During a private charter a passenger fell down a stairwell and sustained serious injuries. The area around the top of the stairwell had a recess that reduced the floor area slightly and could be missed during movements. The stairs themselves were not found to be contributory to this incident. However, the spiral design proved problematic for providing post-incident medical assistance for the passenger.

Any area that may present a safety risk to passengers onboard a vessel should be risk assessed, with appropriate control measures put in place to ensure passenger safety.

At about 14:10 on 9 August 2023, a passenger charter vessel was conducting a 4-hour private charter of Sydney Harbour and its surrounding bays. During lunchbreak and while at anchor, a passenger fell down a spiral staircase at the end of a food-serving bench area. The passenger sustained injuries to their head, back, neck, hand, and hips.

Crew were immediately alerted and rendered first aid to the passenger. However, due to the severity of injuries and pain experienced by the passenger, a decision was made to engage emergency services. After alerting authorities, the master took the vessel to a nearby ferry wharf to meet the ambulance.

Due to the nature of the injuries, and the position at the base of the staircase, extraction of the passenger became complicated, and assistance of the fire and rescue service was sought. The passenger subsequently spent over a week in hospital and had sustained severe injuries.

Investigation findings

The investigation identified the following contributory factors:

  • The area around the top of the stairwell had a recess that reduced the floor area slightly and could be missed during movements. The spiral design of the stairs also presented challenges in providing post-incident assistance to the passenger, although the stairs themselves did not contribute to the incident.
  • A review of the vessel’s history found that the initial survey was conducted by a state regulator in 2004 and on 1 July 2013. The vessel became an existing vessel under the National System as defined by Marine Order 503 (Div 5, Clause 22).
  • The stairway did not comply with the requirements of USL Code 5E; however, the stairway arrangement was accepted by the state regulator at the initial survey stage in 2004 and no modifications had been made since this time.
  • The injured passenger stated that the safety briefing was not conducted. The master and lead general purpose hand both stated that a comprehensive passenger briefing did take place on the day and was documented in the vessel’s safety management system.

Safety message

Owners and operators must ensure that risk assessments are conducted for any area that may present a safety risk to passengers onboard their vessels with appropriate control measures put in place to protect passenger and crew safety.

Owners and operators should also identify and rectify non-compliant structures within their vessels that can be assessed to be a potential risk to safety.

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Source: Safety4sea

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