When it comes to accidents in en-closed spaces, human factors are often said to be the big problem. But according to Urban Svedberg, the risks could be designed out or reduced by using physical barriers.
Seamen have known for decades that it can be dangerous to enter enclosed spaces. The UN maritime body, IMO (International Maritime Organization) hands out recommendations on safety measures, and colleges, insurance companies and organizations all spread knowledge of the risks – and yet this kind of accident still happens.
The behaviour of onboard personnel is often singled out as a key issue. Accident investigations and information videos point out failures in measuring oxygen values, or protective equipment not being used. According to Urban Svedberg, who took part in the IMO sub-committee that wrote the new recommendations for enclosed spaces in 2014, these problems cannot be solved only by regulations and information.
“New people who may not know the risks are constantly joining the shipping industry, and strong hierarchies in some nationalities can mean that employees don’t dare to question orders. Then we have the human factor, which can lead to people sometimes taking greater risks than they should,” he says.
Urban Svedberg believes that the industry should focus more on designing out the risks.
“Installing a fan would do the job. Airing out a stairwell by just opening a door can take a whole day, but that’s reduced to about ten minutes with a fan. All recommendations for how to behave in enclosed spaces are really a result of poor design.”
Even alarms or chains in front of open doors can make a real difference, he argues.
“Physical barriers have more effect than clubbing new decisions in the IMO. Of course we need laws and regulations, but words on paper don’t stop people going into enclosed spaces. If there’s a chain across an entrance, on the other hand, it’s possible that someone thinks twice before going in.”
Sloppy use of meters
According to IMO recommendations, a meter must be used to check the atmosphere before anybody enters an enclosed space. The problem is that people are careless with measuring equipment, and if it is not properly maintained the values will not be reliable.
“During one period I made around 15 visits to ships, and when I was on board I used to ask to see the measuring equipment,” says Urban Svedberg. “Most of them had a meter, but they often had to search for a good while before they found it and even then, many of them had no idea how it worked.”