Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Accident Packages

This morning during a routine fire and boat drill of one the crew took an ugly digger while stepping out of the emergency gear locker. The fall splayed him painfully out on the deck and cut a centimeter long gash on his shin. The accident required minor first aid; some irrigating, disinfecting, butterfly suturing and a sterile dressing. That was the easy part.

What was to follow as required by the International Safety Management code was a full accident report plus post accident drug and alcohol testing. A full investigation replete with witness statements, photographs and measurements of the offending threshold had to be gathered for submittal to the home office along with the results of a breathalyzer and two vials of urine for shipment to Quest Diagnostics. All over a little gash on a sailors shin!

It wasn't always like this, was it? How could have Magellan found Tiera Del Fuego if every time he disemboweled a mutinous crewmember his entire fleet had to sign a statement stating whether they had any personal knowledge of the alleged accident? How could Nelson have fought at Trafalgar or John Paul Jones harass the British if they had to fill out a ream of paper every time blood was spilt?

No, I think this is a recent phenomenon. It reminds me of when I had to sign the DOI on a tank vessel, initialing each line every time I relieved a cargo watch restating that I had took all the precautions I could to not make a mess of the environment and that I was solely liable and fineable. Or the time when one operations manager wanted a 2692
serious marine incident form filled out for any injury including a cut finger to which the Coast Guard Marine Safety Office replied they had better things to do.

I love covering my ass just as much as the next paranoid sailor but covering the company's ass is a real headache. I can understand their caution though. If I was the president of human resources for this company and had seen as many law suits come across my desk as I know he has than I'd probably want pictures of the bed where one Steward's
Assistant sprained her back tucking a hospital corner one trip last year and ended up being not fit for duty, a mariner's worst nightmare.

Nonetheless the process for a medical incident beyond what an ibuprofen can take care of is incredible. The entire crew actually has to attest on paper whether they have any knowledge of the accident. If you do, god forbid, than you must fill out a lengthy witness statement in case you end up having to testify that Joe Sailor actually wasn't wearing safety glasses when he put his eye out with a grape fruit seed.

Worse than having to make a statement is having to report an injury that results in lost time. If an accident causes any crew member to not be able to return to work for a single day than the entire ship's crew looses their daily safety incentive bonus for ninety days. Not only does it affect the crew onboard the ship but also the returning relief crew who take it very personally.

Indeed litigious sailors and their lawyers have made the American Merchant Marine a much more paranoid and paperwork ridden industry than it had to be, and is the main reason why foreign companies are so reluctant to hire lawsuit happy Americans. But somewhere amidst all those ISM manuals there is some good that comes from that accident packet besides making sure the company doesn't loose their shirt over a 12 inch high hatch coaming on one of their managed vessels.

Every quarter the pencil pushers get together and analyze each accident, incident and near miss reported by the fleet. The result is a lengthy report about the types, causes and recommendations concerning each accident. Not that anyone besides a few interested crew read this report but if one is curious than you can quickly see what the leading causes of accidents in your particular organization are. Also the safety incentive, though so easily repealed, is a good tool in making the crew aware of their obligation to perform jobs safely and think about the hazards involved in their daily routines.

Unfortunately an organization's answer to injuries is to create more policy. Checklists, hazard analysis and permits abound. Sometimes money is put into new or better equipment or repairs of safety critical devices but I suppose as long as we keep getting hit in the head with monkey's fists they'll have no choice but to make us wear another piece of Personal Protective Equipment.

Another twist to this little incident is that the crew member who took the tumble was one of our plus size sailors. Anyone can trip and fall but the physical limitations caused by obesity are a disability greatly increasing the potential for injuries and accidents. This also increases the liability of the company with more potential for medical evacuations, hospitalizations and lawsuits.  The company trusts the contracted union to provide qualified mariners who are FFD or Fit For Duty but as is so often the case, people who are obviously very overweight are still being employed regularly thanks to oblivious doctors.

Many private companies and some union contracted ones, i.e. tanker operators, already have their own physical standards that preclude individuals like this from working on their ships. Now it will be up to the Coast Guard to enforce medical standards that will hopefully prevent doctors ashore from certifying people who are obviously limited by their body size in being fit for duty at sea on ships like mine.


  1. Do your guys have to pass a Human Performance Exam? It's a big pain in the ass, but climbing ladders, dragging a hitting sled and hopping around on one foot whilst hooked to a heart monitor would do a nice job in keeping weight under control. As a certified fatass, I dumped some weight fast after my last one...

  2. Welcome to the world of lawyers and paperwork!