Worker sustains head injury in wake surge

Lookout! Issue 31, August 2014

A man employed by a maritime construction company sustained a serious head injury when his head was caught between a bollard on the barge he was working on and a wharf piling.
Bollard and wharf pile
Maritime New Zealand ©2020
The bollard and wharf pile where the man’s head was caught. (This photo was taken later in the day, after the tide had dropped.)

The barge was alongside the berthing piles on the wharf’s outer face. The worker, kneeling on the barge deck, reached out to take a mooring line passed to him by a workmate from around the back of a pile.

As he reached for the line, the wake of a passing vessel slammed the barge against the berthing pile with an upward motion. The man was struck by the top edge of the mooring bollard on the barge and the face of the berthing pile.

As he reached for the line, the wake of a passing vessel slammed the barge against the berthing pile with an upward motion.

As the man stood up, holding his head, his colleague noticed he was bleeding and helped him into a sitting position. He was taken by ambulance to hospital, where an MRI scan showed he had sustained a fracture to his skull and required surgery.


  • The staff working on the barge were experienced in the berthing procedure. They had been operating in this way to secure floating plant to a wharf for the previous 26 years.
    • A moment’s complacency had put the worker at risk. At the time of berthing he had to kneel on the deck to reach the mooring line being passed to him around the back of the berthing pile. He leaned against the pile as he reached for the line and, because of the position of his body, was unable to avoid being struck by the bollard when the barge unexpectedly and violently surged upwards.
    • The man admitted that his loss of focus had contributed to the accident. When berthing or departing, you must keep your body well clear of any pinch points. This includes all moving plant in any location. Use a boat hook to handle mooring lines, if required.
  • „Personal protective equipment (PPE) must be worn on barges at all times, including hard hats. When this incident occurred, appropriate PPE was being used – safety boots, high-viz vests and hard hats – but the worker had removed his hard hat and put it on the deck beside him. Had he been wearing his hard hat as required, he may have avoided injury.
  • There should be a designated person to keep a lookout for wave and wake action that could affect the motion of the barge and put people’s safety at risk.
  • No enforcement action was taken over the incident, in recognition of the company’s previous good safety record. The company reported the accident to MNZ as required and took proactive measures to prevent similar incidents in future. Operational procedures were revised, including staff briefings and training drills for securing floating plant.
    • Other actions involved hazard identification and task analysis when securing floating plant, avoiding potential pinch points between fixed structures and floating plant, and using a boat hook when passing lines around piles to avoid the need to reach out. The foreman is now required to keep a safety watch during the procedure, and to alert staff about the wake of other vessels or wave action that could make floating plant react unexpectedly.
  • Maritime officers investigating the incident said the workers on the barge had responded to the medical emergency in a professional manner, and their up-to-date first aid training was evident in their care of their workmate.

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