Electrical safety: An evaluation of electrical hazards

In its latest Safety Bulletin, published in March 2016, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) tackles the issue of electrical hazards full on. Although aimed at those working onboard in an electrical capacity, it serves as a timely reminder of the potential electrical hazards a surveyor may be faced with too.

Electrical hazards can lead to deaths and injuries such as shocks and burns. They can also lead to shipboard fires, explosions and the disabling (through blackouts) of essential equipment and services on board which can compromise safety. Ensuring that the right controls and mitigation measures are in place is critical for maintaining safe operations. To be effective, control measures need to be developed at the organisational, technical and individual levels.

Incident data reported to the AMSA indicates that hazards to safety and personnel resulting from the use of electrical equipment continue to be a major concern. The safety bulletin explores electrical safety through AMSA data and aims to provide further awareness and recommended actions that will promote an effective electrical safety culture on board ships.

Learning from incidents. An example In May 2005, an electrician on board a bulk carrier received an electric shock which caused him to fall between a deep frame and a parallel pipe. He consequently died from a heart attack believed to have been caused by the electric shock. The light fitting the electrician was working on was still energised. It is possible that a qualified and experienced electrician may not have seen the need to complete an electrical work permit for a ‘simple’ task like repairing a light fitting. However, the electrician should have isolated and tagged the power supply prior to commencing the work.

In a separate incident that occurred on a passenger ship in October 2012, an engine room rating suffered serious burns from an electric shock. The rating formed part of the shipboard electrical team and was assigned to trace an electrical fault on a boiler unit. The engine room rating assumed that the system was isolated and safe to work on, so he started to disconnect the terminals. However, the system was not completely isolated and remained energised. The restricted working space meant that he had to kneel or sit to carry out the work. This provided a conduction pathway to complete an electrical circuit through his body, eliminating the protection provided by his insulated safety boots. As a result, he suffered an electric shock, which resulted in serious burns to three of his fingers. The safety investigation concluded that poor isolation procedures, complexity of the schematic drawings and lack of familiarity with the system resulted in the engine room rating accepting risks that he did not fully understand.

Electrical related incident data
Between 2011 and 2015, a total of 87 electrical related incidents were reported to AMSA. A breakdown of the outcomes from these incidents, categorised into injuries (23),
fires (14), equipment/electrical failures (47) and near misses (3).

AMSA also collects port State control (PSC) and flag State control (FSC) inspection data. PSC and FSC data is a reflection of normal operations and often contains information on similar precursors to accidents and incidents. This allows for the identification of control measures and the implementation of safety interventions to prevent more
serious occurrences. A comparative analysis of electrical related PSC/FSC deficiencies and reported incident data collected by AMSA during the period 2011 to 2015 shows there were a total of 1,325 electrical related deficiencies issued by AMSA.

Take-away message
Working with electricity is inherently dangerous and it is critical to ensure that safe working conditions are in place. Both the seafarer and the company have a responsibility to make safety their top priority.
From an organisational perspective, the following should be considered:
• regular communication, education, training and safety meetings;
• ensure thorough risk assessments are in place;
• ensure a thorough verification of electrical equipment has been conducted, particularly with regard to quality, labelling, design and location on board;
• reinforce the positive behaviour of reporting all incidents, near misses and unsafe conditions;
• ensure routine checks of switchboard and distribution systems are carried out; and
• ensure robust isolation processes and procedures are in place and adhered to.

From an individual perspective, the following should be considered:
• stop the job if you feel unsafe;
• always ensure a detailed risk assessment is in place and you are familiar with the risk controls required for the task;
• always check and confirm tag/lockout is in place;
• use appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as insulated mats, safety shoes and tools;
• establish clear lines of communication with other personnel;
• inspect and test tools prior to use – do not use equipment if it has been modified or damaged; and
• report all incidents and near misses.

Read the AMSA Safety Bulletin on electrical hazards in full in pdf format:

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