An Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) investigation has found that a lack of hazard awareness and safety control measures led to the chief engineer on board the Australian bulk carrier River Embley sustaining burns to 45 percent of his body when he was scalded by hot water that unexpectedly sprayed from a steam valve he and a junior engineer were working on.

On the morning of 14 October 2005 the engineers were working in the engine room while the ship was at anchor off Gladstone. While they were dismantling the turbo alternator exhaust steam valve a thousand litres of pressurised hot water unexpectedly started to spray from the valve and onto the chief engineer standing on staging below.

In an effort to escape the hot water spray the chief engineer tried to jump clear of the staging but became entangled in the securing rope which had formed a barrier.

The ship's crew mounted an immediate first aid response and the master organised a helicopter evacuation. The chief engineer was transported to Gladstone Hospital and later transferred to the Royal Brisbane Hospital intensive care unit.

The report concludes that the engineers did not fully assess the exhaust steam piping system and its drainage arrangements, or allow sufficient time for the exhaust steam system to completely drain before starting to work on the valve.

The ship's work permit system and job safety analysis procedures were not utilised by the engineering crew and deficiencies in safety management were not identified in two audits prior to the accident.

It is also considered that a sizable experience gradient between the chief engineer and the other engineers along with a lack of training allowed a series of 'single person' errors to go unchecked and unquestioned.

The ATSB has made several safety recommendations aimed at preventing further accidents.

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Last update 01 April 2011