Lessons Learned: Electrical repairs must be carried out by suitably qualified persons

In its most recent series on lessons learned from accidents, the American Club describes an incident where an engineer was electrocuted.

The Incident

Jhe mechanic of a tug was doing a routine round in the engine room. He checked the fuel level in the day tank and found that he needed to transfer fuel from a storage tank to the day tank. He did this regularly about every 2 days depending on the speed of the vessel and the number of barges in tow.

He checked the day tank level and aligned the valves to transfer fuel. As he flipped the switch to turn on the fuel transfer pump, he received an electric shock to his hand. The fuel transfer pump did not start.

Close inspection of the wiring revealed a faulty splice. The electrical tape around the splice had come loose, exposing the bare wires. When the engineer reached the switch, he inadvertently hit the splice. He was shocked by the bare wires and when that happened the circuit breaker tripped.

The engineer informed the captain of what had happened, then called the harbor engineer. Although the fuel transfer pump was inoperative, the tug had sufficient fuel in the day tank to continue its voyage.

The engineer was startled by the electric shock and his hand was numb for a few minutes, but he did not need medical attention and there were no lasting effects. The fuel transfer pump was not damaged nor the circuit breaker. The cost for the electrician and supplies was around $300.

probable cause

The port engineer and an electrician met with the tug later that day to assess the situation and carry out repairs. The port engineer was surprised to find that a household switch had been installed and the wiring had been spliced ​​into the circuit in a very amateurish fashion.

The ship’s engineer had only been on this ship for 10 days and reported that the switch was like this when he boarded. The engineer he relieved had said nothing about the installation of this switch, but it had worked fine during the time he was on board until he was electrocuted.

The household switch was removed along with the wiring. An appropriate switch has been installed and properly wired into the circuit. The original switch has also been located. His malfunction appeared to be the reason the household switch was installed. The fuel transfer pump was then checked and found to be working properly.

Lessons learned

  • Electrical repairs on a vessel should only be carried out by a suitably qualified person trained in marine electricity.
  • The original fuel transfer pump switch failure should have been reported, documented, and then properly repaired. It should not have been temporarily repaired by an unqualified crew member.
  • Companies should strive to ensure a culture where repairs are expected to be carried out correctly and with the knowledge of the port engineer. Additionally, it is not in the company’s interest to perform temporary or workaround repairs.