Fatalities in falls between quay and vessels: urgent standardisation of recovery equipment needed.

It’s happened again. A safety bulletin reporting falls between quay and vessel. One fatal, the other fortunately not. In both cases, the casualties took ‘informal’ routes onto or off their vessels. In one, wall fendering had been adapted and was commonly used for embarkation, despite being unsuitable for this purpose.

As also happens too frequently the officer who died was brought alongside the vessel alive but succumbed after crew failed to effectively deploy the vessels man overboard recovery equipment. The high stress, high risk, situation of attempting to recover a casualty from the water is an unfortunate time to be attempting to learn the intricacies of casualty recovery equipment. Yet this frantic emergent and frequently inadequate learning also a repeated feature of accident reports.

As the number of designs of equipment intended to help crews recover people who have fallen overboard multiply, the likelihood is that crew, often serving short contracts, are exposed to many different products with different, perhaps subtly different, operating requirements. In this regard the proliferation of designs in MOB recovery equipment may be decreasing the rate of live casualty recoveries, or in blunt terms: making the situation worse.

This situation calls for an urgent standardisation action process. Casualty recovery rates are likely to improve if the industry can reach a situation where however the class of recovery equipment functions internally, the external functionality visible to crew is the same*. To draw an analogy, I know that wherever I have stepped on a commercial aircraft, the overawing exits work the same way. It is simple enough for untrained passengers to use, irrespective off the widely differing sequence of internal pyrotechnics, gas bottles, levers and other equipment which fires in sequence to open the door and deploy the slide.