Monday, August 12, 2019

slips and falls

There have been two fatalities recently on American ships.

          These were falls related to work performed on military-contracted cargo ships. The Military Sealift Command are the folks who move beans, bombs and bullets for the US military, and they're ships crewed by civilians.

   I've never worked for MSC. I have never heard anything positive about working for MSC beyond that any mariner in need of sea time to qualify to test in order to advance in rank can do so quickly. In other words, you're away a lot.

          From what I've been told, MSC employment consists of a lot of sitting at docks in places like Norfolk, and even more sitting at docks in places like Guam, with trips to sea feeding and following naval ships.

     I've also been told that there is no going home as scheduled when your time is up. The MSC 4-month contract often enough ends up taking 4-8 months to see you relieved after your time is done, so that's up to a year at sea in a single voyage. And this I actually have seen.

 I was taking the Medical Person-In-Charge (MED-PIC) course years ago at MITAGS, a maritime school in Maryland. Week one was MED-PRO, or Medical First Aid Provider, basically how to put on bandaids and ace bandages. After that was the fun stuff, stitching, injections and IV's, intro to diagnostics, etc.  Well, we had one MSC guy, a cargo mate, who had been working 10-months or so a year for the last 15 years. He hadn't been home in, sure enough, over a year, and had to take this course, poor guy. He'd been divorced, of course, and hadn't seen his teenage daughter in a couple of years and was so excited about that. Well, week one gets done, we all finish MED-PRO, and on like Wednesday of week 2, he gets recalled to his ship after 10 FUCKING DAYS for another cruise out in the ass end of the Pacific. Guy never got to see his house, let alone his daughter. 10 days off in 2 years. That's insane.

 So that's what I know about MSC, that and they have a higher accident rate than most if not all other sectors of maritime trade. I doubt it's a single-source issue, in terms of root causes, I mean, MSC does UNREPS and other dangerous tasks... but I've also heard complaints about competence among unlicensed crew, and high rates of theft, violence and even a little light prostitution, although I have a hard time buying that last one. So my take is that there are probably more links in the causality chains that lead to accidents on MSC ships than dingleberries like me are likely to face, which at the end of the day means statistically higher potential rates for accidents.
  I'm perhaps not doing service by not exploring this subject further, in that it would be really interesting to actually identify if MSC has a weaker safety culture at operational level than other companies do, or if there are other factors involved, or if it's just a matter of risk management in higher-risk work. But, truth be told, I don't actually care enough to do the work involved. I have my own problems and my own little floating hot dog cart to worry about.
         The safety guys in my employer's HSE department probably spend a lot of time grinding their teeth. Lots of guys, myself included, at times, are resistant to certain safety practices that appear to offer less benefit than cost, at least until something happens, anyhow. Cost, to me at the operational end, means getting my own ass hurt or killed. For the HSE guys, it means paying out a shit ton of cash times something like 600 guys. So I do see the point pretty clearly. My old attitude of  'hey, it's my ass and my decision to ignore the safety nannies and not wear a condom when out on deck, and just raw dog the shit out of that cargo discharge in comfort' doesn't work when you have 600 guys doing higher-risk stuff and probabilities being a thing. Plus, times being what they are, the retards who want to wear fucking flip-flops out on deck are the first ones calling the lawyers when they lose a toe.

 With TWO exceptions, I understand these things. My disagreement with PPE standards comes on clothing and hard hats for tankermen. Most shipping companies require mariners who are potentially exposed to fuel oils to wear coveralls. I think I still have my nomex-and-cotton coveralls from when I worked for American Heavy Lift.
 Here is where I am at odds with HSE standards for clothing,  and pretty much always have been. Full suits in hot weather, to me, is not necessarily the best idea, unless you have an unlimited supply of coveralls available. Myself, I was issued 2 pairs per 120-day voyage in my tanker days, and if they were ruined, needle and thread and rags to make up the missing material. Carrying residual fuel cargoes (bunkers and diesel), let's say an ounce of oil gets on my sleeve. After I notice it, and who knows how long that will take, I curse, and wipe it off, maybe even throw some soap on it, but I'm going to still wear that garment, and the whole while, petroleum residue is going to be contacting my skin, and even if 90% of it comes out in the wash (it won't) I'm going to be exposed for an extended period. Distillates flash off. Residual fuels do not.
 OTOH, lets' say I'm in a t-shirt, and an ounce of oil gets on my arm. I'm going to curse. Then wipe off  95+% of whatever doesn't run off my arm and hit the deck. Within a moment, I am going to hit that oil spot with soap or other cleaner... and then its' gone. Time-weighted average for exposure is in favor of the man in shirtsleeves.
 But, truth be told, this ignores other factors, like potential for burns, cuts, scratches, things like that that coveralls would have prevented. OTOH, I have fried enough brain cells after one summer in the southern Gulf of Mexico, to know that I'd rather deal with the consequences of being out of uniform than to get heatstroke twice in a 10-day period again. You don't bounce back from that quickly, and even less quickly when it happens twice. I had headaches and nausea on and off for over a month, and after that experience, I learned quickly that however much the safety nannies may wish that you operate safely, the job will need to get done in a timely manner, and if if is not done in a timely manner, you will be, at best, resented. I have never found saying no to work to not have consequences, myself.
 The other disagreement I have with maritime PPE standards is the wearing of hard hats outdoors. This I don't really care about that much, except that it's kabuki at best, in exchange for mild discomfort, which, end of the day, is no big deal, except that I hate kabuki policy for its' inherent dishonesty. The protection hard hats offer from overhead impacts is not an issue when there's nothing overhead, and I  personally have never experienced something falling on deck where a hard hat would have saved a life. Obviously they have their place. I wouldn't want to work on a supply boat or an oil rig without one, for sure! For my own part, most anything that goes up high is on my crane, or a crane, and will kill anyone under it if it lets go, regardless of what they're wearing. The smallest dangerous overhead objects I have to worry about falling on me are turnbuckle parts and twist locks from a shipping container, neither of which are going to be stopped by a hard hat. Getting hit by either means a closed casket funeral regardless of what's on one's head. For that reason, we never work under a shipping container that is being lashed or unlashed, and certainly, we never work under a container that is being lifted, and in the case of being adjacent to a container being moved, we're eye-banging that thing nonstop. It's been a few years since a container dropped on a bunker barge, but it happened not that long ago, and I've twice been there when a container was knocked into the water close to us by a crane operator who was smoking his lunch. Wearing a hard hat in those situations is like when Wile E. Coyote opens the dainty little umbrella as the giant rock falls on him.
 I suppose there is always the possibility of vertically flying objects, things thrown from a collision or a chain snapping, or whatever. When required, I do wear one  because it isn't a big deal and it makes the office happy, not because I believe I am more safe with one on. A certain amount of cynicism applies.

  I rarely work aloft, but I do take it pretty serious when I do. I don't mind heights at all, but I do mind that my ass is at the higher end of the weight limit for the harnesses I have aboard. THAT makes me more nervous than not relying on a harness at all. My own approach is never to use the harness to take up weight, in effect, acting as though it is not there, while it's there. I find this works pretty well, although other than light bulb changing, I am not working aloft much at all these days, which is fine by me.

 Slips and falls, OTOH, happen to us a lot, and preventing them is a big deal here on the HQ. I absolutely am a nazi when it comes to no slick spots on deck, applying nonskid and keeping tripping hazards (of which there are many) to a minimum. Even so, I fall down every few months, I'll admit. I am very aware of what my ankles and wrists will be doing when I step over things I can't go around. We do have some on-deck piping that would snap an ankle if you got a foot stuck and then did a pratfall. As such I like my deck looking like 30-grit sandpaper, and even so, I still end up on my ass here and there. Shit happens, so I want to be sure that when shit happens,  it as as mild as possible. More graceful people than I would probably never fall, but I am no ballerina. With the exception of eye protection, proper footwear is probably the single largest safety item one can wear in my situation.


Sevesteen said...

I infrequently have to wear a safety harness. Between wearings, I lost about 1/3 my body weight. I discovered that harnesses are not one size fits all.

So the Safety department told my department to order me a new one...but the one that company policy demands is no longer made. Once they figured out what the replacement was, we got it ordered. And I couldn't figure out how to put it on. Turns out that's not my fault, Safety couldn't figure it out either, turns out it was sewn wrong. 6 months later I finally had a wearable harness that fit.

STxAR said...

Both seamen were in their 50's. That's an old workforce. I guess those 15 year deployments aren't attractive to younger guys. Man....

Captain Jill said...

I've been hard put to find any seagoing work since the last oil crash almost 5 years ago, but MSC is still on the absolute bottom of my list. I have sailed for 3-5 month tours before in my career. No more of that! Three months is (barely) acceptable, even then, ONLY if there is some chance of shore leave and/or decent internet. There's no reason these days to be accepting of those long tours. I don't know how MSC keeps on filling its ships. Only thing I can figure is 7 maritime academies now putting out thousands of licensed mariners with no other jobs out there.

As for the PPE. I really hate being told I'm too stupid to know how to dress myself! After a life spent working on the water (I started commercial fishing with my dad when I was only about 8 years old). Working my way up the hawsepipe to earn a master unlimited license and the companies still figure I can't figure out when I need a hardhat and when I don't. When there's NOTHING that could possibly fall from above me, there is NO reason to wear a hard hat and I despise being told by some ignoramous insurance agent or accountant ashore that my experience and knowledge of reality has no bearing on the matter.

And, just for you, I wore flip flops on deck for MANY decades, and NEVER once had any kind of injury that could be attributed to that. in over 45 years of working at sea, I've only had 2 minor injuries (cut myself with a knife, and YES I still think its absolute insanity to outlaw knives onboard, and small cut on my foot when someone dropped a bucket full of cement on me and I was barefoot cleaning the cement tank). It's all about situational awareness, not what you're wearing!