Employees were exposed to the hazard of falling from an unguarded open deck flat top barge and drowning.


A front-end loader and a crane unload gravel from an open deck barge.

Activity at time of incident:

The employee had been operating a front-end loader (Bobcat) on the barge prior to the incident. However, his activities at the time of the incident are not known because there were no eyewitnesses. The front-end loader was not involved in the incident.

Incident Description


Longshoremen are unloading gravel from an open deck barge, using a small front-end loader (Bobcat) and an onshore crane. The barge is 200 feet long and has unguarded edges. On the barge, the operator of the bobcat pushes the gravel into piles, which are then picked by the crane operator using a clamshell bucket attachment. The crane operator then places the gravel in a storage area on the dock.


The crane operator last saw the bobcat operator returning to the dock after leaving the barge to get fuel for the bobcat. Shortly afterwards, the crane operator stopped unloading gravel for the day and, before leaving the dock, tried unsuccessfully to locate the Bobcat operator. About an hour later, the crane operator was contacted at home and was asked to return to the dock to remove the bobcat from the barge so that the tugboat operator could move the barge. About two hours after he was last seen by the crane operator on the dock, the bobcat operator's body was found in the water near the area used to access the barge. The bobcat operator had apparently fallen (from an unknown location) into the water and drowned.

Relevant Factors:

Although there were no eyewitnesses, it is believed that the Bobcat operator fell off the unguarded open deck barge into the water, which was 11 feet deep at the barge site. The Bobcat operator was not wearing a life vest and could not swim. Although life vests were available at the dock, the employer did not require the employees to wear them while working aboard the unguarded barge. There were no life rings with 90 feet of line attached, available at the site.

The barge was moored close to the dock and the employees reached the barge by stepping from the dock over a one-foot gap between the dock and the barge. A ladder was available to access the barge at low tide.

Applicable Standards and Control Measures

  • 29 CFR 1918.65(h)(9): Mechanically powered vehicles used aboard vessels - Operation. "When lift trucks or other mechanically powered vehicles are being operated on open deck-type barges, the edges of the barges shall be guarded by railings, sideboards, timbers, or other means sufficient to prevent vehicles from rolling overboard...."

This hazard might have been prevented by guarding the edges of the barge with railings. Even though this incident occurred when the laborer was not operating the Bobcat, adequately guarded edges may have prevented the employee from falling overboard.

  • 29 CFR 1918.105(b)(1): Other protective measures - Personal flotation devices (PFDs). "The employer shall provide and shall require the wearing of personal flotation devices for each employee engaged in work in which the employee might fall into the water."

This hazard might have been prevented if the victim had been required to wear a life vest while working aboard the barge.

  • 29 CFR 1918.97(e)(1): First aid and lifesaving facilities - Life-rings. "The employer shall ensure that there is in the vicinity of each vessel being worked at least one U.S. Coast Guard approved 30-inch (76.2 cm) life-ring with no less than 90 feet (27.43 m) of line attached, and at least one portable or permanent ladder that will reach from the top of the apron to the surface of the water."

If someone had noticed the bobcat operator falling into the water, and if a 30-inch life-ring with at least 90 feet of line attached had been placed in an easily accessible location near the barge, this hazard may have been prevented. This hazard was abated by providing 2 life rings with 90 feet of line on each. A large sign was posted on the building that reads, "Life Ring Inside" with two arrows pointing in the direction of the doorway.

Longshoremen should receive awareness training in longshoring hazards, including drowning hazards and drowning prevention.

Other Relevant Standards and/or Control Measures

  • 29 CFR 1917.45(i)(2): Cranes and derricks - Operations - Guarding of swing radius. "Accessible areas within the swing radius of the body of a revolving crane shall be physically guarded during operations to prevent an employee from being caught between the body of the crane and any fixed structure or between parts of the crane."

This hazard was abated by placing four (30) inch high orange traffic cones with a yellow rope connecting them to form a barricade. This barricade was placed approximately 6 ft from the counter weight of the crane and is portable.

  • 29 CFR 1917.50 (b)(1): Certification of marine terminal material handling devices. "In accordance with part 1919 of this chapter, by persons then currently accredited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration as provided in that part."

The crane had not been certificated in accordance with the standards of part 1919 by persons accredited by OSHA. This hazard was abated by testing the crane and certifying it by an accredited service.