Making life at sea safer
Virtually all coatings products contain substances known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which are released into the atmosphere during application and curing of the coating. The level of VOCs is frequently controlled by local regulations particularly in the developed world and places such as shipyards may be subject to inspection to ensure rules are being adhered to.
In most instances this will be a matter for the contractor and not the ship operator to concern themselves with. However, VOCs present both a health and fire risk and should be taken into consideration when crew are carrying out any repair and maintenance to coating systems. A prudent operator would include the risk assessment in its ISM procedures and should ensure that any other hazards associated with any particular product are identified from the maker’s material safety data sheets (MSDS) or other issued safety advice.
There are other safety issues for an operator to consider when crew are tasked to work on coatings. These include use of PPE and more generally applying safe practices for working at heights, overside and in enclosed spaces. The latter can be especially dangerous considering the potential for low oxygen levels to begin with and VOC released from the coating being applied.
More safety related coating issues were highlighted by an announcement by the London P&I Club in October 2016. These include a lack of anti-skid deck paint in key areas, a lack of hazard marking of protruding objects and platforms
, and low awareness of the dangers of snap-back zones.
The club recommends that ships’ officers conduct a risk assessment of their mooring stations to establish the best location for anti-skid areas, and the use of a prescribed additive to the deck paint, which can usually be found in the ship’s coating technical file. Good surface preparation is essential to a long life, says the club, as it is believed that 70% of premature coating breakdown on ships is attributable to poor surface preparation.
The club emphasises that hazard markings make trip hazards more visible and says officers should also not overlook dangers at head height when conducting a risk assessment of a mooring station. Poor awareness of snap-back zones, meanwhile, continues to feature as a regular negative finding on club inspections.
The latest (2015) edition of the Code of Safe Working Practices for Merchant Seaman makes clear reference to a particular industry-wide confusion over the area of snap-back zones being marked on the deck. It states,
‘The painting of snap-back zones on mooring decks should be avoided because they may give a false sense of security ”.
Paints also have a different role to play in general safety. It is standard practice for escape routes to be marked with yellow paint and the use of different colours for painting pipes gives an indication of what fluid or gas they may be carrying. Similarly, arrows painted on pipes and the like can indicate direction of flow. Care should be taken to ensure that any touching up or repainting is done using the same colours as the original.
Cutting or welding of any painted surface should take into account the properties of the paint used. Failure to do this can result in the release of harmful vapours and in most cases a fire risk. Eye protection should always be worn when working in painted areas especially if preparing for repainting because of the risk of paint chips striking eyes. When preparing old paint surfaces, the danger of dust from the paint should not be underestimated. Rubbing down wet is a sensible precaution. PPE must be worn when using paint strippers because of their caustic nature.