Caught on camera: Seafarer changes mast lamp without fall protection

A crew member was spotted changing a light while standing outside of the “back scratcher”. The Nautical Institute discussed the picture in its latest Mars Reports: ‘Obviously, one should never exit the confines of a back scratcher unless fully secured by some other means of fall protection.’

While in port, an observer from another ship sent the photo seen on the right. We can see a member of the ship’s crew standing on the outside the back scratcher of the main mast ladder. According to the observer, he stretched from this position to change a lamp on the forward side of the mast. He descended the ladder then returned; on both occasions, once he reached the top, he climbed through the back scratcher to access the lamp.

On inserting the new lamp and without the appearance of having communicated via radio, the light immediately illuminated. That probably indicates that the light’s electrical system had not been locked out.

On the first occasion, another crew member was standing at the starboard bridge wing door watching. He did nothing to stop the job and seemed to be taking an observer/standby role.

Advice from The Nautical Institute

In addition to the advice to always use fall protection, The Nautical Institute states the following about this incident:

  • In this case, the back scratcher may have been fit for some other purpose – but not for changing the front-facing lamp.
  • If you see an unsafe act being carried out on your own vessel, intervene immediately.
    Even such banal tasks as changing a light bulb should be preceded by a lock-out procedure of the electrical source, especially in wet and outdoor environments.

Mars Reports

The Nautical Institute gathers reports of maritime accidents and near-misses. It then publishes these so-called Mars Reports (anonymously) to prevent other accidents from happening.

This accident was covered in the Mars Reports, originally published as Mars 202047, that are part of Report Number 335. A selection of this Report has also been published in SWZ|Maritime’s October 2020 issue. The Nautical Institute compiles these reports to help prevent maritime accidents. That is why they are also published on SWZ|Maritime’s website.

More reports are needed to keep the scheme interesting and informative. All reports are read only by the Mars coordinator and are treated in the strictest confidence. To submit a report, please use the Mars report form.

Author: Mariska Buitendijk

Mariska Buitendijk is one of SWZ|Maritime's journalists as well as the magazine's copy editor.