Safety signs on board ship alert the crew to hazards, equipment, escape routes, etc. This article describes the use of, and standards behind the production of, signs on board ship and asks - can signs identifying enclosed spaces play a part in reducing accidents in these areas?
Signs have been with us for ever. Since hieroglyphs first appeared on temple walls and before that, in illustrations and pictograms scribed in caves and on rock faces, someone has wanted to tell others something which they think is important. Within the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum, surviving signs point the way to places where sailors might have found some home comforts after a long voyage. Public houses & Cafes have had signs for millennia. Even insects and animals rely on signs. Receptive flowers advertise their pollen for eager bees. A brief sniff at the base of a tree or lamp post tells one animal the species, sexual orientation and proximity of another. In the Kalahari and in the Australian outback, the landscape is read like a book. Signs are all around us.
In the marine industry signs on ships now serve a vital function but it was not always so. On a square rigger running the easting down through the roaring forties, I am sure that there were no carefully placed signs warning of strong winds and slippery decks, or notices on each yard arm recommending that one should hold on tightly whilst securing the gasket - with one hand, of course.
The sea is still the same dangerous place but since the days of sail, the inevitable march of time has forced the industry to acknowledge new challenges, dangers and lifestyles while at the same time, reducing accident rates and introducing safer working practices throughout. Signage has been an important part of this change and this fact has been acknowledged not only by management but by the regulatory bodies. In the maelstrom of technical and administrative duties that go with new build, ship transfer and operations, someone somewhere has to consider signage. In order to do this, they have to take many things into account, not least the current regulatory requirements. There will be conflict, but the issue will invariably be resolved using sensible judgement and the risk assessment process.
The international nature of shipping has required commonality of signage for many years. Although not entirely universal, the adoption of various IMO resolutions has lead to a degree of standard signage onboard vessels which has become more and more familiar to mariners from all nations. As international trade, travel and mobility of labour has increased in recent years there has been a realisation that Health and Safety signs used ashore should follow the marine industry and move towards the standardisation of graphical symbols and the colour of signs in all countries.
International Organisation for Standardisation
The International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) is a worldwide federation of national standards bodies (ISO member bodies). Each member body has the right to be represented on a technical committee if they have an interest in a particular subject. The committee works to prepare the International Standard in liaison with international organisations, both governmental and non-governmental.
Draft International Standards adopted by the technical committees are circulated to the member bodies for voting. Publication as an International Standard requires approval by at least 75 % of the member bodies casting a vote.
Technical Committee ISO/TC 145 is currently working towards making a standard set of graphical symbols and colours for all signs. The standard will be used by all Technical Committees within ISO charged with developing specific safety signage for their industry. It will contain a list of registered signs which will be regularly revised as more graphical symbols are standardised by ISO.
In preparing the new standard for publication the technical committee has made particular reference to ISO 3864 which gives guidance for the shape and colour of each safety sign including the graphical symbols. The objective is to ensure that only graphical symbols with the highest comprehension credentials are used and the use of the registered list of safety sign symbols will lead to a progressively improved degree of comprehension across all industries internationally.
It is essential that safety signs, their meaning and the action to be taken forms part of the formal induction and training process on joining a vessel. With the international nature of ships and their crews, standard signage will assist managers to fulfil their obligations to identify hazards, mark the location of emergency equipment, life saving appliances and the means of escape from accommodation and under deck areas.
The intention of International Standards relating to signage is to communicate the safety message using graphical symbols and colours that are universally understood and known by all members of society, thereby removing one of the barriers to good safety management created by different languages.
Training is essential
Once identification is complete and the location of hazards is accomplished, a good risk assessment will include measures to reduce and control risk. Training is vital in this respect. However, reminders are required and can be achieved with good use of both prohibition and mandatory instructions.
Whilst a slight variation in general information may cause a short delay in finding the correct store or restaurant onboard a passenger ship, a mistake in the interpretation of escape route signs may ultimately lead to death. For passenger ships the ISO 15370 standard for low location lighting (LLL) adequately covers the guidance given in IMO resolutions and Circulars on the means of escape. As this does not apply to other types of vessel the catalogue of escape signs in the new standard will set out a logical and well known convention which will allow an evacuee to progress swiftly along a well marked escape route to an area of relative safety.
The Ships and Marine Technical Committee works specifically for the marine industry its sub-committee, known as the Lifesaving and Fire Protection Sub Committee, has been preparing ISO 24409 of which there are three parts. Part 1 spells out general design principles applicable to all types of shipboard safety and safety-related signs. Specific signs are catalogued in Part 2, and their application on ships is specified in Part 3. This is significant because it is directly applicable to shipboard safety and safety-related signs only, and does not deal with graphical symbols to be used on shipboard plans or documentation. The Standard clarifies and supplements existing requirements set out in SOLAS regulations II-2/188.8.131.52.1, III/9.2.3 and III/11.5 and also ISO 17631 shipboard plans for fire protection, life-saving appliances and means of escape.
In producing ISO 17631 much reference was made to IMO resolutions enabling the categorisation of Life Saving Appliance and Fire Control Symbols for Ship safety plans. Many of these symbols are now very recognisable as signs onboard vessels of all nationalities.
Vessel managers and captains are required to ensure that all crew members are aware of hazards, the nature of the hazard and the measures to be taken to protect themselves onboard ship. Previous experience and good risk assessment technique will identify the requirements for signage onboard any particular ship.
Enclosed Space Awareness
From the foregoing, it would appear therefore, that the mechanism exists to adopt a common symbol for identifying an enclosed space.
All mariners must be concerned with the loss of life connected to incidents involving enclosed spaces which continue to blight the marine world. Recent discussions at IMO and other nautical authorities have explored the reasons for these continuing tragedies. Obviously the original entrant who collapses because of the dangerous atmosphere in an enclosed space has, most likely, made an error in entering in the first place. However it is also evident that, despite training and the considerable proliferation of information, crew members and even highly trained members of rescue teams still enter enclosed spaces to attempt rescue without being properly prepared. It is argued that the explanation for this seemingly brave but ultimately foolish action is a rush of adrenalin and the very good human quality of wanting to assist a fellow human who is in trouble.
Can signage play its part?
We have been trying to get the message across for many years and yet still our fellow mariners continue to fall victim to the dreaded enclosed spaces onboard ships. There are good definitions of an enclosed space in many publications and I am sure most, if not all mariners will be able to give a reasonable explanation of an enclosed space if asked.
Surely the problem is that mariners are not recognising which of the spaces onboard their ships are designated enclosed spaces and therefore potentially dangerous. If each cofferdam, chain locker, cargo tank and double bottom was identified as an enclosed space in addition to its function, would the message get across?
Thus, it must surely be the time to have enclosed spaces formerly identified on every ship's SAFETY PLAN by means of a distinctive and an internationally understood symbol. This action will provide the ship owner/operator with a valuable tool, readily available, to locate and identify these potentially deadly spaces.
The serious nature of the subject discussed warrants reproduction of this article first published in the February 2011 edition of the Nautical Institute's Seaways publication.
For more information contact Captain Andy Goldsmith, Marine Technical Manager firstname.lastname@example.org