Employees were exposed to slip, trip, and fall hazards while working alone in the barge hold of a bulk cement carrier barge.


An air pressure system is used to transfer bulk cement product from a barge to on-shore storage silos through pipes.

Activity at time of incident:

The employee was walking on a catwalk in the barge hold, operating an aeration system by opening and closing air valves to facilitate movement of the bulk cement from the barge to the nearby terminal. The employee was working alone in the hold.

Incident Description


Longshoremen are offloading bulk cement from a barge to nearby on-shore storage silos, using pressurized air to transfer the cement through piping. The bulk cement product is then unloaded from the storage silos for shipment by rail and truck. One employee is assigned the task of entering the cargo compartment of the barge to operate the air valves and to monitor the transfer of the bulk cement from the barge. This employee typically notifies another employee, the topside man, when he is entering the barge hold. To operate the controls in the hold, the employee stands on a steel-grate catwalk, which is about 24 inches wide. The employee remains inside the cargo compartment alone for up to an hour.


The employee responsible for operating the air pressure valves had entered the barge hold and was walking on the catwalk adjacent to the controls, when he apparently fell and struck his head. There were no eyewitnesses to the incident. About two hours after he had entered the hold, a co-worker checking on the operations in the hold found the employee lying face down on the catwalk, with a gash in his head. The employee died from a skull fracture.

Relevant Factors:

Although the employee typically notified the topside man when he was entering the barge hold, the employer had not established procedures for frequent monitoring to ensure the safety of employees working alone in the holds.

It could not be determined what caused the employee to trip and fall. The catwalk was found to be in good condition and free of obstructions, and there were no reported safety problems in that area. The victim may have struck his head on the catwalk or a nearby guardrail when he fell.

Applicable Standards and Control Measures

  • 29 CFR 1918.83(c): Stowed cargo; tiering and breaking down. "Employees trimming bulk cargo shall be checked in and out by the job boss. . . . Frequent checks shall be made to ensure the safety of any employee working alone in a tank or cargo compartment."

This hazard might have been prevented if the employer had established procedures for frequent monitoring of employees working alone in the cargo compartment. Although the exact time of death could not be determined in this case, the injured employee may have survived if he had been discovered sooner and had received prompt medical treatment.

Other Relevant Standards and/or Control Measures

  • Evaluate walking and working surfaces in barge holds to ensure there are no slip, trip, or fall hazards.

Wherever possible, employees should work in pairs when working in barge holds and other isolated areas. In any case, employee(s) working in isolated areas of vessels should maintain some means of communication (e.g., radio, sound powered phones, frequent checks) with topside workers.