Crewman plunges from top hatch to weatherdeck

Lookout! Issue 27, December 2012

The 60-year-old worker was working alone, unsupervised at night, and was not wearing any safety restraint.

He was standing astride a deck opening, trying to secure a lashing bar into a cell guide at the base of a container, when the bar suddenly came loose and fell on him, causing him to overbalance and fall over the edge of the hatch. The vessel was tied up at a dock, and he hit the wharf face as he fell to the weatherdeck.

A crewman lashing a container sustained back injuries after overbalancing and falling more than three metres over the edge of the hatch.
Maritime New Zealand ©2015

An experienced crewman sustained serious back injuries when he lost his footing at the edge of a ship’s hatch while lashing a container, and fell more than 3 metres to the deck below.

Stevedores on shore saw him fall and alerted the crew, who called an ambulance. The man suffered fractured vertebrae, bruising and lacerations. He was lucky not to sustain a head injury, having removed his safety helmet to wear a headlamp because of poor visibility in the area where he was working. Although he has been able to return to work, he reports having an enduring injury to his right shoulder.


  • This accident was entirely preventable. Had the company, ship’s master and crewman followed the requirements of the Code of Safe Working Practice for Merchant Seafarers (MNZ), the Code of Practice for Health and Safety in Port Operations (International Labour Organization), and the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992, the worker would have had appropriate safety measures in place to prevent his fall.
  • Lashing work in New Zealand is usually carried out by stevedores, but at the port where this incident occurred, the work is undertaken by the vessel’s crew. The crewman had not received training in safe lashing practices from his employer, and the company was unaware that workers lashing cargo are required to work in pairs to reduce the likelihood of handling errors. No duty watch was being kept at the time the man fell, because officers were changing shift.
    • A free MNZ training DVD “Container lashing and de-lashing” is available. Contact to order a copy or watch it online: visit com/user/CommercialVesselsnz.
  • The deck opening created a significant hazard, which could have been eliminated by fitting a grate over it. If this was not practicable, temporary barriers would have prevented a person falling overboard or through the deck opening.
    • Measures should be taken to protect or cover any opening on a deck where employees are working and at risk of falling.
  • The ship’s master was ordered to take action to improve safety procedures, including having crew work in pairs when lashing cargo, and ensuring lighting is adequate in areas where deck operations are carried out. Orders were also issued for duty officers to comply with operational procedures, and to properly supervise crew and ensure they wear appropriate safety gear.
  • The company undertook to develop and implement procedures for working with containers, and purchased portable lights for work locations. New deck lights were installed and where practicable grates installed to cover holes in decks.

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