Ship operators must combine vigilance, structure and care when enforcing the latest SOLAS regulation for safeguarding crews from the dangers of gas when entering enclosed spaces. However merely supplying a vessel with a single, portable, four-gas detection unit – as stipulated by the IMO – is not enough, says Wilhelmsen Ships Service (WSS).
The new regulation which comes into force on 1st July 2016 requires ships on international voyages to have at least one unit that can detect the presence of oxygen, flammable gases or vapours, carbon monoxide and hydrogen sulphide.
“The regulation musn’t be seen in isolation. It is sound legislating from the IMO, but it comes with a burden of responsibility for operators,” says Andrew Sherriff, WSS’s Business Manager for Marine Products – Safety Solutions.
Crucially, says Sherriff, the detection units have to be used by individuals entering enclosed spaces or tanks and not left unused in a drawer. They need to be ‘bump-tested’ before use, regularly visually inspected and their batteries charged.
“It sounds simple, but it is very serious. Also don’t forget the batteries and sensor will need replacing after 30 months to be on the safe side, or when their runtime drops below that of the shortest on-board shift. A failure to do this can cause some units to ‘forget’ they are equipped with a dual-range sensor for combustible gases,” he says.
The unit’s audible and visual alarms must also be checked regularly and free of grime and dirt – which can obstruct them – while the detector’s housing should be free of cracks. If it isn’t, water can corrode the inner circuit boards and, if the detector isn’t ‘gas tight’, it can cause explosions in the worst-case scenarios, adds Sherriff.
Other safety precautions include making sure the units are stored properly to prevent their sensors becoming contaminated. Calibration checks are also essential. “Well informed, regimented crew members will be able to safely use and check the basic robustness and functions of a four-gas detection unit,” he says.
“The regulations must be backed up by the right mix of everyday care and professional maintenance. By doing so this new regulation will really fulfil its potential to safeguard assets, operations and, most importantly of all, lives,” concludes Sherriff.