Use of Torch Lights Inside a Ballast Tank Kills Three



Every shipboard activity has a high-risk factor associated with it. May it be in the engine room or in the cargo area, the risks are many. Reports claim that each year more than 300 injuries befall workers associated with the maritime industry.

Here is an eye-opener where the incident killed three and injured six during a ballast tank painting work.



Workers were involved in spray painting four ballast tanks. They had received prior permits and started their work. The ventilation of the ballast tanks was properly arranged prior to the commencement of the job. During the spray painting work, portable, explosion-proof, handheld lamps were hung near the tank hatch openings, while the painters inside the tanks used battery-operated torches.

A sudden flash fire broke out in one of the tanks. Three workers died due to injuries sustained in the fire and six others were injured.


Causal factors:

The following causes were identified as the reason for the explosion:

  • The foreman’s lack of knowledge about the use of torch lights inside a ballast tank.
  • The foreman’s negligence in reading the work permit which has clearly indicated that the use of torch lights was forbidden during spray painting.
  • Forced ventilation used to introduce atmospheric air did not adequately lower the concentration of flammable gas within the tank.
  • Usage of non-intrinsically safe torches that were provided for use within a flammable environment.
  • The unnoticed extremities of the temperature inside the tank.
  • Non-adherence of safe work procedures.

Lesson Learnt:

  • Identification of hazards and implementation of control measures during work audit must be enhanced.
  • Forced and exhaust ventilation should be used to lower the concentration of flammable gases within the confined space.
  • Tools used must be verified to be intrinsically safe before issuing the work permit.
  • The workers must be educated about safety and the importance of reading the work permit.

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Source: Workplace Safety and Health Council



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