As part of your risk assessment, all construction barge operators need to consider the risk of a person overboard incident. Many injuries and deaths associated with construction barges are avoidable, including drowning.
Firstly, consider whether you are providing safe access and egress to your construction barge, whether this be from a wharf, marina, or another vessel. A gangway may be needed to prevent workers and crew falling overboard.
Safe access must:
- take into account the range of tides and differing barge freeboards during loading/unloading
- be slip resistant
- appropriately secured
- of sufficient strength to withstand loads
- always allow for three points of contact
- have side rails and may also need a safety net.
You need to consider the independent movement of the barge, particularly waves or the wake from other vessels. Your means of access needs to consider emergency evacuation in case of fire, explosion, sinking or loss of stability. If this cannot be via the shore, then a standby vessel that can carry everyone on board will need to be considered. An appropriate stand by vessel with the capacity to carry everyone on board is required for any certificate of survey barge that is not connected to the shore and does not carry a life raft or lifeboat.
Failure to provide a safe means of access has previously resulted in drownings and workplace health and safety prosecutions.
Slips, trips, and falls are major causes of workplace injuries in the maritime industry and can lead to overboard incidents. Factors that can lead to slips, trips and falls include gear and equipment on deck, slippery surfaces, fatigue, carrying heavy objects, visibility, and unsuitable footwear. Consider these factors in your risk assessment.
If the deck of a barge is not equipped with compliant guardrails, all workers should wear an appropriate lifejacket and should consider wearing harnesses. These controls are mandatory for barges with a certificate of survey under General Exemption 41. Also consider marking the edge of the deck with contrasting paint and have available a means of re-boarding the barge accessible to a person in the water such as a ladder that extends above and below the waterline.
Choose a design of lifejacket that fits correctly and look after it. There is no point wearing it if it's not going to work. Inspect all stitching, seams, and clips regularly. If you have an inflatable life jacket, make sure you get it serviced according to the manufacturer's instructions (this is a legal requirement) and conduct regular self-servicing pre-wear checks. Record your inspections in your maintenance log.
It is mandatory to have a person overboard emergency plan in place and that everyone knows what to do if someone does end up in the water. Make sure a life ring with an appropriate length of rope is immediately available for deployment and a standby vessel available to retrieve the person.
Time is critical in a person overboard situation, particularly if it is cold water, no lifejacket is worn, the person is tangled in a line, knocked unconscious or caught in a current. Do you have a means to raise the alarm with other vessels in the vicinity? All crews need to be trained in this procedure and drills should be practiced regularly. Your risk assessment should identify what other safety equipment you need.