Certified Marine Chemists Help With Enclosed Space Safety

Credit: Marine Chemist Association
Credit: Marine Chemist Association

Published Jan 12, 2020 8:20 PM by Donald Raffo

Certified Marine Chemists could be an asset make the maritime industry safer for confined space hazards. 

Several of the articles that have appeared on The Maritime Executive have advocated for additional training, awareness and regulation.

The call for training and regulation is not new to the maritime industry. In 1922 the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) drafted safety regulations and certificated the first Marine Chemists to enforce them. In 1963, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) assumed responsibility from ABS and established new training requirements and a maritime confined-space standard. 

Later, in 1970, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) established safety standards for maritime employment. OSHA has several confined-space regulations based on industry requirements (maritime, construction and general industry standards to name to the biggest).

There are many other national and international organizations who have confined-space rules and regulations. These varying standards can make implementation of a program confusing. 

There are many trainers and companies who teach confined-space safety, but they are not all applicable to shipyards or the maritime industry. Oftentimes, when I board a vessel or go in a shipyard and speak to a confined-space person, it becomes apparent they have been incorrectly trained. It is not uncommon that they are enforcing the wrong regulation.

The maritime industry has its own rules due to its unique nature and needs. While training, regulation and awareness are always part of the solution, other issues may hinder the successful implementation making a confined space safe.

Confined-space safety generally encompasses three distinct categories: oxygen deficiency, fire and explosion hazards, and toxicity exposure to workers. 

These may seem like simple risks to mitigate, but they are actually complex safety issues. Today’s instrumentation for confined-space safety provides the user with a wealth of information, but interpreting and understanding the data is where the difficulty may begin. 

I have worked with experts at environmental companies who obtain meter readings and provide interpretations, yet, when I question them on the basis of their conclusions, I realize that they haven’t properly interpreted the meter information and have incorrect conclusions. This is especially true with flammability and toxicity readings.

Understanding meter readings for flammability is much more complex than reading a meter. The application and understanding of toxicity values in the maritime industry often requires an expert.

In the maritime industry confined-space safety is a unique and constantly changing challenge. It is a focus of Certified Marine Chemists, who undergo an extensive training and certification process to understand the unique challenges of shipbuilding, ship repair, and entry and inspection of maritime confined spaces. Marine Chemists are subject to continuing education requirements, regulatory oversight, and mandatory training to keep the chemists up to date on maritime issues and the latest in instrumentation.

A Marine Chemist is a sound investment. He or she is a professional who is familiar with the workings of shipyards and the needs of vessel owners and crews. While not always available at sea, Marine Chemists can provide training to crew and staff on the hazards of confined spaces. Speaking with an individual who is familiar with the hazards the crew or staff may face during their work can lead to greater level of trust and make the individuals invest in their safety. 

Marine Chemists are available to work on confined-space issues so others can understand and mitigate hazards for workers. Typically, crew members or shipyard personal are assigned to maintain confined-space safety. They are given a meter and some basic training. Usually, they only have a rudimentary understanding of what they are doing. Turnover is common in this industry, and many of these individuals come and go, leaving behind their experience and making shipyards vulnerable.

A Marine Chemist is the solution. Shipyards and vessel owners should avail themselves to an expert to evaluate confined-space hazards. A Certified Marine Chemist will bring an extensive understanding of ship structure, toxicity evaluation, product chemical interactions, meter use and interpretation, as well as application of maritime standards.

They also provide a third-party inspection, which can offer owners and operators with a level of liability insulation. While the primary focus is always health and safety to workers and vessels, there is always a business side to maritime work.

The U.S. Coast Guard and Navy extensively use Marine Chemists, and many maritime inspectors request a Marine Chemist inspection prior to confined-space entry. OSHA mandates an inspection by a Certified Marine Chemist prior to certain work starting. 

While NFPA-Certified Marine Chemists are normally employed within the 50 states and U.S. territories, they are frequently used throughout the world due to their unique training and understanding of maritime hazards. 

Marine Chemists are not unique to the U.S., although their training program through NFPA is considered the gold standard, many countries have similar programs. The industry should consider making the use of a Certified Marine Chemist part of their confined-space safety program, either for training or inspections. As the industry becomes more and more specialized, it may warrant bringing in an expert in maritime confined-space safety issues. 

It’s the smart thing to do.

To contact a chemist or find out more about the Marine Chemist profession go to www.marinechemistassociation.com

Donald Raffo is Secretary of the Marine Chemist Association.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.