As a ship owners’ representatives walk through the ships during on-going work at shipyards, they may observe conditions or situations that are not consistent with the contractually-required means of assuring safety to both personnel and the vessel. A few words to the production supervisor often is sufficient to achieve a correction to that deficiency, at least temporarily. But more likely than not, a temporary correction is not sufficient; it has to endure for as long as the shipyard’s work continues, although that implementation has a cost impact on the shipyard. The challenge is for an owner’s representative to effectively convince the shipyard to implement for the duration of the contract all the safety features that it contractually promised.
Fisher Maritime’s expertise was called upon to help resolve a dispute centering on a vessel which experienced a significant fire stemming from hot work during the repair process for which there was inadequate fire watch and fire protection. During the ensuing litigation over responsibility for the cost and schedule impact of the fire and subsequent repairs, an owner’s representative alleged that he had passed through the space before the fire occurred, asking for improvement in the fire watch situation and the greater use of appropriate fire blankets. The shipyard denied that they had been advised of those alleged deficiencies.
Orally calling safety issues to the attention of the shipyard is often believed sufficient. However, these conversations are often subject to differing recollections, especially as time passes, memories fade and unfortunate events occur. In order to ensure that the communicated concern is properly preserved, a safety issue which has been verbally communicated to the shipyard probably should be followed up immediately in writing to shipyard project management. This process achieves four objectives:
- It ensures that the shipyard management, beyond the production staff, is notified immediately upon detection of perceived safety hazards.
- There is no misunderstanding regarding the particulars of a given issue.
- The issue has been preserved in the event of future disputes.
- Perhaps most importantly, knowledge of the existence of this contemporaneously-developed document puts pressure on shipyard management to implement for the duration of the contract all the safety features that it contractually promised.
An owner’s representative may even find it useful to create a form in advance in order to easily record such important parameters as:
- the nature of the issue
- reference to particular contractual and statutory requirements
- identification of the:
- person notified
- corrective actions to be taken
- other possible factors
Dovetailing into this issue is the confusion regarding the intent of occupational safety and health regulations pertaining to ship repair, conversion, construction, and breaking. Those regulations have been promulgated to ensure the safety and protection of shipyard employees from unsafe working conditions. That is, those regulations exist to protect the shipyard employees, not the vessel, from unsafe working conditions. With this in mind, the owner may find that those regulations fall short of adequately protecting the vessel from unsafe conditions. Accordingly, many owners find it important to contractually define supplemental requirements that focus on the safety of the vessel above those regulations that focus on safety for shipyard employees.