The Importance of Fire Watch in Shipyards
Whenever workers are working in a shipyard or aboard a vessel in a shipyard, a fire watch is usually designated purely for the purpose of watching out for a fire. In some places a fire watch is actually required by law whenever working on a vessel or inside a shipyard. As a worker who works in a shipyard, it is your responsibility to know these requirements. However, one of the problems with fire watches is that they can become easily bored since a majority of them simply wait around and wait for a fire to happen. This doesn’t have to be the case though. There are several things the designated fire watch can be doing to help prevent fires while they are on fire watch duty. Fire watches should treat their jobs much like a safety role. Yes, they are there primarily to combat a fire if it were to break out, but while they are waiting for this to happen, they can be taking proactive safety measures to help prevent a fire from ever breaking out.
For example, whenever there is welding or cutting taking place in the shipyard or on a ship, there are several safety precautions the fire watch can take to ensure that other workers are working under the safest possible conditions. The following checklist is a good example.
- Ensure that the ventilation in those spaces where the welding or cutting is happening is adequate enough for someone to be working in that space. If there’s little to no ventilation, workers could be affected by the smoke before a fire ever appears.
- Have a Competent Person inspect the spaces where work will be done BEFORE workers enter the space and start working. No one should enter any space before the Competent Person has made their full inspection.
- Make sure that any and all lighting is adequate enough for the workers who will be working in the space. If lighting is poor, there is a myriad of problems it could create.
- If workers will be working with foam insulation, then the fire watch should make sure that all foam is stripped back to their correct guidelines or have all the exposed edges painted with No-Char. If you don’t have No-Char, find an appropriate substitute.
- Ensure that good housekeeping is practiced. Bad housekeeping creates a number of problems including debris being strewn about, spaghetti leads, and workers who are in a bad mood because everything is a mess. Bad housekeeping has led to some of the worst accidents in the industry. Don’t risk it.
- Make sure that there is no gasoline anywhere near the welding area! There have been instances where a worker was welding, noticed a vertical skip in an enclosed space, and was sitting on a 5 gallon can of gasoline at the same time. The gas can was used earlier for the pressure washer on deck and another worker brought it down for the welder to sit on. Make sure you read the labels on everything that is handed to you! This particular incident could have resulted in disaster that could’ve blown up the entire ship just because of a dumb mistake.
A fire watch is extremely important when working in a shipyard or aboard a vessel. However, the best fire watches take the extra initiative to inspect, catch, and report any fire safety hazards BEFORE an accident occurs. Yes, it could be possible that the fire watch needs to delay or stop work in the process, but the cleanup process for even a small fire can take hours or even days to clean up. An inspection will only take a few minutes. Make the smart decision.