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Line of fire near miss – almost a head injury

During cable trans-spooling operations, someone almost suffered a very serious head injury.

What happened?

Whilst a messenger rope (a mooring line) was being pulled across from a cable vessel to a barge, a crew member was standing near the chute to visually monitor the operation.  Due to the height difference between vessel and barge, the messenger rope crept up as the pull tension increased, until it reached the top of the chute wall and exited the chute.  Due to the angle between vessel and barge, the rope violently shot sideways, striking the helmet of the crewmember, knocking his helmet off his head.  Had the rope been 10 cm lower (or the crewmember have been 10 cm taller), he would have been hit on the head with potentially very serious (if not fatal) consequences.

Our member notes “that three weeks later, almost exactly the same thing happened on another vessel while offloading a cable to shore. Again, purely down to luck, a serious injury was prevented.”

Stills from CCTV footage of the actual occurrence, showing the rope striking the crew members’ helmet.

Lessons learned

  • The angle and height difference between the vessel and the barge were not identified as hazards;
    • Identify risks for each separate operation, and use the Management of Change process if things change;
  • There was a difference between spooling speeds on each cable tank – they were not synchronised. This allowed tension to build up and caused the “climbing up” of the rope in the chute;
    • Ensure communication is clear and that everyone clearly understands what their role is;
    • Consider a practice or a dry run!  
  • There was poor management of the cable tension between the two chutes. Had there been more slack this would have prevented this occurrence;
    • Follow the procedure and pay attention particularly when moving cable, rope or wire between winches;
  • A total of 12 crew members were watching the operation from different positions; nobody stopped the job!
    • Speak up! Dare to call an ALL STOP;
  • There was nothing to stop the rope exiting the chute;
    • Our contractor has modified all their chutes, adding a bar across the top to totally enclose the chutes during similar operations – safety by design.
  • Our member notes:
    • Be aware of your surroundings;
    • Stay out of the line of fire of ropes under tension;
    • Do the Last Minute Risk Assessment prior each job.

Members may wish to refer to

Safety Event

Published: 15 October 2021
Download: IMCA SF 28/21

Relevant life-saving rules:
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