BTA Safety Seminar 2014

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The BTA held their annual Safety Seminar, 6 November at the Novotel, Southampton. In his opening remarks, the Chairman, Marc Niederer, in acknowledging the experience present, emphasised that safety was the single most important thing in our business. Clients demanded it, but with declining markets and less work, there was a risk that operators would cut corners to gain favour with customers. This must be avoided and he asked that delegates take away 3 good ideas from the day.

Nick Dorman of Targe Towing then introduced the theme for day: ‘safe towing practice’, which moves away from slips, trips and falls, to thoughts on design, operation of equipment and winch procedures.

Captain Andy Moll, Deputy Chief Examiner, MAIB, then provided a gripping resume of several accidents and and in doing so, clearly illustrated the need for safe practice and proper design. The tug Kingston was dragged astern at considerable speed when a ship came between the tug and her tow, fouling the tow line. The inability to release the tow quickly, because the winch hydraulics were not running at the time, could have led to girting and capsize. The tug was saved by the presence of a gob rope. Several incidents in fishing vessels could have been avoided if the risks had been properly assessed and understood and the layout of machinery had been better considered.


Tug Kingston

Roger Towner, the MCA’s Chief Examiner, then gave an update and refresh on training and certification. He mentioned that those transferring their certificate of competence from the old inshore (30 miles) to the new near coastal (150 miles), as set out in MGN 495, should be able to count their previous sea service. He also emphasised that those with tug specific STCW (limited) certificates did not need to acquire a Voluntary Towage Endorsement. The knowledge and competence was already covered. Although a little way off, he reminded those with STCW certificates that from 1 January 2017, they had to be in date for their short courses, which required refresher training every 5 years. Those with an ECDIS onboard or engineers dealing with greater than 1kV would also require training. Finally, he briefed on the work to create new routes to certification for small ships engineers, which would be common across tug, fishing, workboat and large yacht sectors.

Scott Ward of Svitzer Marine then gave a presentation on assessing risk and safe systems of work. He started by saying the most important component onboard is ‘you’.  A risk assessment is basically looking at the job before you start it, identifying the hazards, who might be at risk and by what degree, and then putting actions in place to safeguard everyone. We all do this throughout the day. Enemies are: complacency, with repeated operations over a period of time which reduces the perception of risk, and unfamiliarity, where crew are not aware of the limits and capabilities of their vessel or its equipment. In combatting these, crew need to keep focused and have the correct training. Sharing ideas at industry forums and staff appraisal have a part to play.


Hierarchy of Risk

Hierarchy of  controlling risks

Jason Woodward, also from Svitzer, then provided an update based on the latest safety statistics. Reportable cases to the MAIB were 5 in 2013, thankfully all non-serious injuries. In 2012 the figure was 14 and in 2011 it was 10. Loss time injury frequency rate has dropped to 1.9 (was 2.2) but there is some way to go to meet the standards of the offshore target value of 0.35. Policies that will help improvement include:

  • Continuous improvement is the norm
  • Have the right attitude and behaviour
  • Keep focused on the main causes of injuries
  • Promote proactive reporting and foster just cultures
  • Adopt best practice wherever possible
  • Challenge poor behaviours and use stop authority
  • Share success stories and information
  • Challenge poor safety culture
  • Find the real root causes and not just the underlying causes

Don Cockrill, Chairman UK Marine Pilots Association, then talked about tugs and pilots working together. He said despite the increased use of thrusters on larger ships, they were rarely as powerful as was needed and so the presence of a tug is important. He recognised that tug design is changing and they are generally getting larger, although big was not necessarily better. Lean manning and deterioration of skills on the decks on merchant ships added to the problems, as did the size of vessels, where visibility from the bridge was often restricted. Deck equipment was inadequate and the structure was not optimised to tug or mooring operations. He stressed that a tug master should not commit to connecting up if the vessel was going too fast or reduced visibility made it unsafe. Commercial pressure must not be allowed to cloud judgements on safety. Good briefing was essential, as was the use of standard terminology, repeating back instructions and de-briefing on completion. Pilots and tug masters should train together and each should trip with the other. For complex manoeuvres, the use of simulators should be considered to ensure the best techniques for ship handling are identified.




Fairlead failure

For the final part of the day, delegates broke into groups. Nick Dorman introduced the following for discussion:

  • Safe speed
  • Bow to bow or alternatives
  • Pre-operational checks
  • Onboard safety devices to prevent accidents
  • Training and experience, including for pilots

Safe speed is a regular topic and 6 knots as the maximum for connecting forward was reiterated. In reduced visibility this speed should be reduced further. Up to 10 knots could be acceptable astern. Controlled release was also important and this required the pilot to run through the procedure, before the assisted ship’s master gave instruction to the crew on deck. All agreed that passing the tow line on the shoulder was by far safer than bow to bow, although there were some instanced where connecting bow to bow was necessary. If this was the case, then the practice should be to connect the aft tug first so that could, if need be, arrest the ship’s speed. Whilst one practice or the other was adopted in different ports, it was important that the risks were properly understood. Pre-operational checks were vital to a safe tow. This included establishing and maintaining watertight integrity, ensuring unnecessary trip hazards were removed, emergency releases and brakes were checked and everyone was briefed. A check list was best practice, even for the very experienced. Regarding safety devices, planned maintenance, familiarity and training, and redundancy were all very important.


Safe speed in critical


Some well delivered subject matter and a very interactive discussion led to a valuable seminar and learning experience. The BTA was very grateful to the speakers for their very informative presentations and to the delegates for their enthusiastic attendance.

Presentation – Assessing Risk

Presentation – Bench Marking

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