AWO Closes Out ‘Summer Of Safety’ With Fall Overboard Session

The American Waterways Operators closed out its summer series of safety webinars called Summer of Safety with a September 1 presentation by Eric Fetty, Marathon Petroleum Corporation’s marine emergency response and security coordinator. The topic was “What Makes a Successful Falls-Overboard-Prevention Program?”  Since Marathon’s falls-overboard-prevention program was implemented in 2012, the company has reported zero falls overboard.

Fetty discussed key elements of Marathon’s program, including the importance of maintaining employee buy-in and engaging employees in hands-on training, as well as the human factors that play a role in falls overboard and the preventative measures that can and should be taken by companies and their mariners to reduce and mitigate risk exposure.

The company’s training includes maintaining vigilant situational awareness. Anyone working on the first deck is required to wear life jackets at all times. Anyone leaving the wheelhouse or going outside is required to notify the captain. Crewmembers are urged never to turn their backs on the river and to work toward the center of the barge or tow whenever possible.

The hands-on component of the company’s training has increased dramatically since he became involved, said Fetty. Company members train in a park lake with a certified diver on all of the various lifesaving tools the company keeps on hand.

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Training includes what to do if you fall overboard (put hands over face and mouth, hold your breath, don’t land on your back if you can help it, but rotate onto your back as soon as possible). They are taught the “heat escape lessening posture” (H.E.L.P.) that helps conserve body heat.

Each employee trains with all five of the lifesaving tools. The cheapest and simplest to deploy is the old-fashioned rope bag, Fetty said. But all boats are also equipped with a parbuckling rescue net, water-activated rescue sticks, a WRS rope-and-pulley system deployable by a single person, and a ResQMax rope gun that can throw a floating rope up to 225 feet. Employees are also taught how to man a hypothermia station.

Since Marathon developed and refined its system, said Fetty, it has spread throughout Marathon and the industry, having been adopted by many shoreside terminals as well.

Part of the training involves showing a video that includes testimony from the crewman in the last overboard incident in 2012, which Fetty called “totally preventable.” He said this video always makes a strong impression on new employees. That employee was rescued by a brand-new employee who threw a rope bag.

It’s taken some time to implant a strong safety culture, Fetty said.  The keys to a successful program include gaining buy-in from all employees, keeping the program fresh and taking time to ask for, and listen to, feedback, he said.

In the question period, Fetty noted the prevention methods focus on employee training rather than re-engineering the vessel itself. For personal flotation devices, the company requires Type 5 vests, except for a lighter inflatable Type 5 for some tankermen working on hot barges in the summer to combat heat stroke. In icy weather, pathways on boats and barges are regularly treated with an ice-melt substance.

In response to another question, he said the ability to swim is not assumed in the training and is not required as a condition of employment.