USCG marine safety alert on confined spaces

Once again we have to be reminded to be safe when performing confined space operations. My question is Why?

This accident was blatantly dangerous as soon as an internal combustion engined trash pump was even considered to be used inside a confined space. Is this something common in other areas of the industry because I have never seen something like this considered. Wilden pump running on compressed air? Sure. Diesel powered pump filling the space with CO? Negatory.

Am I just missing something here? I’m tired of hearing about these tragedies but This one seemed doomed from the start.

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Unfortunately common sence is a thing of the past replaced with regulation.


In the tug and barge trade, we are constantly told in writing never to enter confined space. There are more and more spaces that are stenciled “confined space.” There is no equipment for ventilating or working in confined spaces. When such equipment is ordered, it is not provided. The usual excuse being “we don’t need it because we never enter confined spaces.” Yet, the practical reality is that we are expected to do whatever it takes to get the job done with whatever tools are available, sometimes in a true emergency. This sometimes involves working in confined space without the right tools for the job.

Why isn’t the proper equipment for working in confined spaces a Subchapter M inspection requirement?

Until confined space safety becomes a routine reality with money gladly spent for the right tools and training, instead of just paperwork to put on a show of make believe safety, confined space incidents will continue to occur.


Y’know, when I was 15-1/2, and starting to drive a car, someone told me about not running the car in the garage with the door closed. Heck, maybe I read it in the newspaper. Maybe it was a suicide, I don’t know. But I knew that running an engine in a “confined space” was bad sh!t.

Now that I’m retired, with 23 years of maritime deck experience, I’ve become quite cynical with the quality of seamen out and about, and what common sense or EVEN SEA-SENCE they possess. In my last decade, I kept revising my opinion (downward).

Maybe my deep sea experience kept me from “parallel universes” in the trade, but on every ship in those 23 years, it was policy to not enter a confined space without telling someone, and following the rules (now called “safe-working practices”).

I just can’t get over-it. If you don’t know as an adult that you can’t bring internal combustion engines into a “confined space” (tank, garage, apartment) etc, maybe you are just destined to qualify for the Darwin Award. Here in FL, every year the stupid are snuffed by generator fumes, or BBQ’s that they bring inside during the hurricane.

The comedian Ron White said it best: YOU CAN’T FIX STUPID.


In my time at sea it was engraved into your brain that you should suppress that strong impulse to go down a tank or double bottom to rescue a person that became unconscious but instead get immediately help with breathing equipment. Dangerous were rusty confined spaces because the rusting process had used all the oxygen in that space.

Furthermore you were never allowed to go down on your own, always have a second man at the outside who is in vocal contact al the time. If the guy in the confined space started to sing they were ordered out asap. Some jokers started to sing just to be funny…

We used to carry compulsory Dräger detection equipment with us when going down.


Does anyone out there remember a trolley set and pig tails? More than 50 years ago we had strict rules about entering confined spaces, the equipment required and the procedures.
It used to be routine.

Could this job have been accomplished safely if they had proper ventilation? Welding and burning in a tank changes the atmosphere, yet we can do it by ventilating the space during the operation. A proper setup with ventilation, A compressed air source to drive a wilden pump, every individual carrying a sniffer. All ways to have avoided this.

@tugsailor is correct, the get ‘er done attitude killed these guys. It’s fucked up that some are reminiscing about the good ol’ days and true seamanship. Those guys don’t deserve to die because you deem them “stupid”. They were just there to work and go home.


Back in the 80’s, we had to get into a cofferdam to inspect some piping. I pulled the cover while the First went to get his meter. When he came back we both noticed smoke coming out of the manhole so I climbed down and looked in only to find one of the QMED’s sitting in there Smoking a Cigarette. I turned around and told the 1st to forget the meter as it’s already been tested by an idiot!


Seriously did you even reed the article for fucks sake surely the job could have been completed safely. It’s not a back in the good old days we got it done attitude that’s killing people it’s more people have no common sense and a lack of putting any thought into what they are doing if it’s not on paper. If a diesel engine is running next to your intake air what do you think is going to happen.

I was referencing the practice of using two ventilation types that is so often referenced in confined space training. You know, removing toxic fumes created by hotwork with a local exhaust blower, while at the same time pushing fresh air into the space with another blower. Feasible for a diesel driven pump I would imagine.

Dipshits blame accidents on a lack of “common sense.”

I’m sure it would be if the exhaust didn’t enter the space you’re trying to ventilate.

And plenty of Dipshits have avoided serious accidents by applying some common sense.

I’ll put it a little different for you, you have to look at a job and recognize the hazards all the training and equipment in the world can’t help if you can’t recognize the hazards involved in a job it doesn’t matter what industry you’re talking about . Training and company policy can’t and don’t help if your employees can’t recognize a simple problem so back to the Dipshits and common sense Common sense is sound practical judgment concerning everyday matters. If you put your hand on the burner of a stove you will get burned if that burner is on somehow our current system doesn’t take some of these simple things into account all the job safety analyses or whatever acronym you’re using doesn’t help if you can’t recognize hazards.

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Hence the exhaust blower to remove exhaust fumes. I.E. The same way welding fumes are removed during confined space hotwork.

It’s easy for us to sit in our chairs and say what they “should’ve” done to prevent this. “Everyone knows engines put out exhaust fumes!” Yeah, someone on that crew probably knew as well. They also had a space filled with water and the nonfunctional pipework. We don’t know what other pieces of equipment they had besides cutting torches, A pump and the required hoses.

Could say, drop the pump in and get her going under the assumption that everyone knows the dangers of running an engine in a confined space. Or, they could wait and take some extra time to find a different means of completing the job. They chose to get 'er done.

Did the AB who first went in the tank know about the dangers of running an engine? Who knows. Maybe he was tired, distracted, new to the job. Does this mean he deserved what he got along with his other workers. He was lacking common sense, so no helpng him…

Common sense relies on what you as a person have learned over your lifetime. People have different experiences and skill levels. It’d be braindead retarded to assume that everyone has the knowledge required to work safely.

I was on a ship when we pulled into port and went down to one generator. The generator was on the diesel service system. The 1st started the generator and put it on the bus after a short warmup period. He didn’t start the diesel service pump. He realized his mistake after receiving several exhaust deviation and frequency alarms.

Common sense, the generator won’t run without fuel. Doesn’t the first know that? Ever since I was a child I knew that engines needed fuel to run.

This was a guy who had been sailing for 10+ years though. He held a C/E unlimited motors license. Of course he knew he should’ve started the diesel service pump to supply the engine. He was distracted though, thinking about the work planned for the short port stay. He went through the motions of starting the generator on autopilot.

Blaming lack of common sense is the lazy way of analyzing accidents. It’s never as simple as it seems to us reading the accident report.

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Not having a fuel pump on wasn’t going to kill anyone.
I just read the article and unless the entire crew was from some third world place that had not yet seen internal combustion engines, I see no way that anyone could think their plan would NOT kill people.

There’s also a ‘hope’ factor that reasonable people fall for.

The other day I was closing out tanks. I get to one of the tanks and the ventilation is off. I ask how long the ventilation has been off and I’m told ‘We just turned it off.’ I hope they’re telling the truth.

I get halfway into the tank and see the ventilation trunk fell in. It seems like the air is going in and back out without circulating to the bottom of the tank. I hope I’m wrong.

I get a level down and my gas monitor starts to alarm. I hope I’ll make it out in time!

Step by step I recognized the problem. I rationalized the issue and hoped it would be okay. I didn’t want to stop-work and delay everything else over what I hoped was a non-issue.

(After testing the tank the air was fine. I’m not sure why the detector alarmed. I may have exhaled wrong.)


Confined space entry was always something that I paid great attention to. I pissed off more than a few superintendents because I refused entry into a space because it wasn’t properly ventilated and/or tested. I have been onboard vessels where they are fishing bodies out of tanks, and it ain’t pretty. . . .


The thing is, it’s actually fairly cheap and simple to equip a small vessel for working in typical confined space.

An air driven blower with a hose that will reach the bottom of the tank solves most problems. Even the little electric blowers with a hose (every shipyard has many of them) is good enough for most spaces on a tug. A couple SCBAs, a couple radios, a test meter, and a little tripod with a winch is most of what’s needed. One day of Shipyard competent person training for every crewman. What’s the big deal?

The first time the company can avoid a diversion or calling in a shoreside vendor - all this gear is paid for.


The entire point was a that a smart , experienced guy made a mistake that seems incredibly dumb in hindsight.

Instead of asking why these guys weren’t provided with the proper tools for doing this job, we’re blaming the guys who were trying to do the job with the tools they had.

You have the benefit of knowing the outcome. That’s why it seems clear to you.


Hindsight bias is a real thing. These people didn’t wake up in the morning and say, “Today is the day that 3 people will die and 2 will be injured in that leg of the MODU that needs to be pumped out. We’re going to make sure this happens by using a combustion engine in an enclosed space.”

WE, however, with the benefit of hindsight can see them barreling down the path to disaster, because we know the outcome. WE can see the exact choices out of the thousands that were collectively made that day by this group that killed 3 and injured 2 more. But, how did it look from their vantage point?

A little light reading below :

For more information, anything by Sidney Dekker or Richard Gasaway ( can be quite enlightening on human error and situational awareness.


IF this was the only equipment available, they (on the MODU) got it part right. They cut 2 holes in the side shell plating. One for the pump discharge hose and one to let air in. They needed to cut a third hole along with exhaust hose to vent the engine exhaust out. Even this arrangement doesn’t account for the exhaust gases that likely began to accumulate in the leg from the start. Unfortunately everything had worked well enough initially and thus they ceased planning accordingly.

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