A shipyard was undertaking the replacement of insulation in reefer spaces on a vessel. After removing the stainless steel liners, the old insulation was ripped out. New insulation was being glued into place, using brushes for the glue that was sitting in an open bucket in the reefer space. A residential-type extension light was in use by the installers. No special ventilation of the glue fumes had been arranged. Upon being cautioned by the owner’s representative to immediately replace the extension light with a non-explosive, double-globe one, and to commence ventilation of the space, the contractor personnel were allowed to continue their work without attending to the light and ventilation issues. The next day, another reminder was matched by continuing indifference to the hazard. On the third day, an explosion in the reefer space caused significant burns to the workers.
In settlement of litigation, the ship owner as well as the shipyard had to compensate the injured parties. Unfortunately, this is not merely an issue of extra costs and schedule delays. This is a matter of personal injury or possibly death. Concerns by the owner’s staff about not interfering with the work or procedures of contractor personnel is, in those circumstances, irrelevant.
Lesson learned: personnel safety comes before concerns about contractual interference; when an explosive atmosphere is detected and imminent risk of explosion or fire is identified, everyone must immediately evacuate the entire vessel until appropriate measures have been taken by trained hazard-reaction personnel, regardless of the impact on project schedule.