Employees were exposed to the hazard of falling through a broken metal roll top cover into a hopper barge.


Employees were closing the metal roll top covers on a hopper barge at a bulk coal terminal.

Activity at time of incident:

Two metal roll top covers on the barge were being raised by a crane to move them closer together for latching, while a laborer stood on an adjacent metal cover on the barge.

Incident Description


An empty hopper barge is moored to the dock of a bulk coal terminal. The hopper barge is approximately 35 feet wide and 195 feet long. The barge is equipped with eight metal roll top covers, each approximately 28 feet wide and 20 feet long. The covers are on wheels and roll on rails on each side of the barge. The crew, which consists of a crawler crane operator and three laborers, is in the process of closing the four metal roll top covers at the stern end of the hopper barge (the four covers on the bow end are already closed). The crawler crane is mounted on the deck of the barge and is rigged with a 20-foot long spreader bar to which is attached a 4-leg bridle. The bridle is used to help the laborers manipulate the covers in order to latch them together and close them. The covers are manually latched together in pairs and then spread out (closed) using the bridle.


After the crew had finished closing all four covers at the stern end of the barge, a 3-foot space remained between the roll covers nearest the center of the barge (covers #4 and #5). The laborers hooked up these covers to the crane, so that they could be raised and moved closer together for latching. At the time of the incident, one laborer was standing on a closed metal roll top cover at the bow (cover #3), one laborer was standing on the deck of the barge, and the third laborer (the victim) was standing on a closed roll top cover nearer the stern (cover #6), which was latched to one of the covers (#5) being raised by the crane. As the crane operator raised the covers, tension from the lift spread to the adjacent covers. The pressure caused the welds securing the latch at cover #6 to break loose, and the resulting jolt caused the laborer standing on cover #6 to lose his balance and fall backwards through the opening between covers #6 and #7. The laborer fell 16 feet to the bottom of the barge and was killed.

Relevant Factors:

It was common practice to stand on the covers while performing closing operations.

Although most of the barges that come to the bulk coal terminal have dome-shaped fiberglass covers, approximately 10 percent of the barges have the rolling covers.

Applicable Standards and Control Measures

  • Workers should not be allowed to work on top of barge covers and never while rolling or moving the covers.

Other Relevant Standards and/or Control Measures

Supervisors should be trained in accident prevention. Recommended topics include: safety responsibility and authority; elements of accident prevention; leadership and motivation; hazards of longshoring; hazard identification and elimination; applicable regulations; and accident investigations.

Additionally, a stokes stretcher basket and first aid kit should be available at every work station.