Handle With Care: Chemical Safety Onboard Vessels

No matter how the industry changes, chemical transport is one of the most commonly seen applications of commercial vessels today.

The waterways of America see hundreds of vessels every year carrying a wide range of chemicals and liquid substances, ranging from organic chemicals, food products (such as vegetable oils, molasses, and fats for industrial or food preparation needs), and industrial chemicals such as lubricating oils for machinery.

Due to the potentially hazardous nature of the products they transport, these chemical tankers tend to be very complex and technologically advanced in order to transport their goods safely and effectively, and as a result they require a lot more training and precaution, even above and beyond the typical risks of the sea. If you work on a chemical vessel and you want to know what to keep in mind, or even if you don’t work on one but are curious as to how they operate, here’s a few common safety tips and rules to take with you:

Make sure everything is properly ventilated: We do mean everything, by the way. One of the most common hazards associated with transporting chemicals is the leaking of noxious fumes or dangerous gases, a danger that in many cases can go totally unnoticed until it’s too late. Make sure your vessel has proper ventilation systems throughout any area the chemicals need to be stored in, and then double-check the tanks themselves – many chemical storage tanks have a ventilation system to prevent the buildup of gases as well, and this can help with safety inspections. Speaking of…

Keep the strictest safety inspection schedule: Every vessel needs safety inspections on a regular basis, but chemical transport cargo ships need even stricter safety inspections than normal due to the dangerous nature of the cargo and the method in which they track it. Make sure to keep the right kind of fire extinguishers handy (dry powder) and make sure they’re still up to code, make sure none of the hoses or connections on the chemical tanks have deteriorated, and make sure no obstructions block the ventilation system to make sure all gases ventilate properly and away from the workers.

Provide protective clothing: Protective clothing is a must-have aboard any vessel insofar as providing life jackets and visible safety gear, but aboard a chemical cargo transport the need for protective gear is even greater. Depending on what kind of chemicals are specifically being transported, you’ll need to prevent inhalation of vapor using gasmasks, oxygen tanks, or rebreathers, prevent contact with the skin by providing heavy gloves, coveralls, and boots, or in extreme cases make sure to provide full-body protection via a HAZMAT suit. Make sure these items are provided in a variety of sizes to accommodate all your workers, and frequently inspect them for damage or misuse.

Establish good communication routines: Above and beyond typical communication methods on cargo ships, chemical transport vessels need strict, clear lines of communication throughout the entire ship so everyone on board is aware of the movement of dangerous materials. Keep your crewmembers trained on things like flow rates, emergency stops, topping up, general alarms, and more to make sure everyone understands what’s being done to the cargo and when, even if they don’t handle it directly. (And if someone is going down into the pump room, make sure it’s reported to someone on duty so they can keep an eye out when they return.)

Never stand ‘downwind’: Especially if the chemicals being transported are gaseous in nature, harmful vapors can be a huge health risk for anyone on board the ship. Never stand downwind of an ullage hole or ventilation system to avoid getting dangerous chemicals shot right into your face, even if you’re wearing protective gear; instead, stand beside it with the wind across your face to prevent injury.

These are just a few of the safety tips you need to know in order to work onboard a chemical tanker, and your shipowner is responsible for providing the proper training and safety equipment. If you’ve been injured working onboard a chemical cargo vessel and you believe the shipowner may be at fault, contact the maritime lawyers at O’Bryan Law today to review your case and help you fight for the justice you deserve.

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