The National Workboat Association (NWA) would like to thank everyone who attended our most recent Safety Forum, Towage: Reducing the Risks – Raising the Standards, on the 16th June at Seawork 2017.
The forum drew on the expertise of workboat operators and safety specialists for an examination of the causes of prominent towage incidents, along with an overview of efforts to promote safer practice across the industry. Serious recent incidents, some resulting in crew fatalities, have highlighted the need for operators to implement more rigorous standards when it comes to communication, equipment and training.
After Kerrie Forster, the NWA’s Safety Forum Chair, welcomed attendees aboard the forum’s floating conference room, the Ocean Scene, Carrie Woodburn, from the loss prevention department of the vessel insurer, Shipowners P&I Club, opened proceedings.
A wide spectrum of towage insurance claims
Carrie revealed that European and British claims to the insurer are a small fragment of the global picture, but argued that more work remains to reduce the frequency and severity of claims in Europe – especially in mitigating risks associated with the ‘human factor’.
Personal injury, for example, is one of the most common sources of claims, with a cumulative effect on aggregate claims, not to mention a potentially critical impact on the ability of the individual to carry out their duties. At the other end of the scale, a lack of adequate engagement with safety management systems can lead to very large single claims, as one multi-million dollar incident shows.
Addressing communications and skills challenges
Rob Cranstone and Nick Hance, both of the Maritime Accident Investigation (MAIB), followed. The objective of their organisation, which works as an independent investigator on behalf of the Department of Transport, is to look beyond human errors, in a ‘no blame’ approach, to the wider system and protocol failures that allow errors to occur.
Rob and Nick provided analysis of six severe towage incidents, demonstrating that a number of common root causes were at play. These can broadly be split between technical and environmental factors, and more complex communications and skills-based challenges.
A number of incidents have been attributed to lack, misuse or failure of the gog-rope and its emergency release system, leading to or exacerbating girting scenarios. More rigorous preparation, with contingency plans in case of bad weather or emergency situations, along with a clearer allocation of responsibilities to the coxswain and vessel pilot, were some of Rob and Nick’s key recommendations. The importance of existing safety protocol, such as ensuring that engine room doors remain closed, should, moreover, be emphasised by operators.
Developing basic training opportunities
These themes were developed by Chris King, an assessor for the MCA Voluntary Towing Endorsement, who also provides independent tug training courses. Historically, recognised training opportunities for deck crew have been limited, and so basic competence and safety courses like these are essential for raising industry standards.
Chris offered sobering examples of past towing accidents, from rope handling and whiplash injuries caused by inadequate mooring to oxygen deprivation brought about by working in confined spaces. These incidents demonstrate the need for individuals to take responsibility for their actions on board their vessels, combined with a greater emphasis on crew teamwork and served by an enhanced understanding of the importance of safety procedures across the industry.
Current NWA towage safety initiatives
Mark Ranson, Secretary of the NWA, and Mark Meade, Chairman, delivered the final presentations, describing the association’s work to reduce risks and raise standards throughout the towage sector. The NWA, Mark Ranson explained, remains the one recognised organisation currently administering the MCA voluntary towage endorsement scheme, the only means of independently verifying a Tugmaster’s competence. 187 endorsements have been issued by the NWA to date.
Mark Meade then outlined the development of the upcoming NWA Towage Good Practice Guide. We hope that this comprehensive manual, the first known to give practical advice on the use of gog ropes, will be the go-to resource for both coastal and ship-assist towage operators. An initial version of the guide is now being finalised for launch a little later this year – and will subsequently be revised on the basis of operational feedback.
The forum ultimately promoted wide-ranging and detailed conversation about safety issues in the towage sector, and proved that, with appropriate measures in place, incidents can easily be avoided. While incidents are thankfully rare in UK waters, there is no room for complacency when it comes to ensuring safety standards, and a proactive approach to enhancing knowledge, communication and training remains essential.
For further information about NWA’s regular Safety Forums, or to make any final suggestions for and contributions to the Towage Good Practice Guide, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.