Ben - 9's Waterways

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Health and Safety Hang-ups

Canals are potentially dangerous places. Especially at locks. People drown in locks, boats sink in locks, people get injured by helicoptering windlasses at locks, and so on. This is something that all boaters are fully aware of. Well, you'd think so, wouldn't you?

When you've done a few locks it all starts getting easy, so you can while away the time as the lock is filling or emptying by chatting with people from other boats, photographing the delightful scenery, popping below to put the kettle on, or even wandering down to the next lock to open the paddles there, which might save a minute or two.

Of course, the problem with taking your eye off the ball is that you are not immediately aware if a dangerous situation presents itself and you are not in a position to take immediate action to prevent a serious incident.

Boats sink in locks usually because the stern has become caught on the cill as the lock empties or because the boat gets caught up on the bottom gates. Alert crews can act instantly if this starts to happen or, better still, make sure the situation doesn't happen in the first place!

Last week we heard the latest tale of a boat sinking in a lock. A hire boat from Wyvern Shipping Company sunk after becoming hung up on the cill of a lock at Buckby on the Grand Union Canal. There are several lock sinkings a year, mostly, but not always involving hire boats.

This does not mean that privately-owned boats don't get into dangerous situations, but more experienced boaters spot what is happening before it becomes catastrophic and know what to do to save the day, such as dropping all paddles to stabilise the situation so that they can then calmly decide the best way out of the problem.

One issue is the variable quality of the training given to new crews (no criticism aimed at Wyvern here) and how well crews listen to instructions when they are keen to get going. But, however good the training, there is no substitute for experience, which boat hirers often don't have the time to build up. Having said that, I'm sure we have all seen conscientious hire boat crews paying careful attention to everything they do, and then seen complacent boat owners seemingly oblivious to the risks they are taking.

There can't be many locks left that do not have warning notices attached to the balance beams of the top gates. It's a pity that the signs are confusing by asking you to keep the boat forward of the cill marker, leaving some ambiguity as to what it means, as forward could be taken to mean the way you are facing when you read the sign!

Have all these thousands of warning notices made any difference to the number of boats getting caught on cills? It doesn't seem like it. However, BW have covered their backs by putting the signs there, so that Compensation-For-Everything-Lawyers-Are-Us Ltd can't claim that BW have made no attempt to draw people's attention to the dangers when someone attempts to grab money from BW to compensate themselves for their own inattention.

I suppose we can look forward to further notices appearing on the bottom gates saying Keep Boat Away From Gate, and attached to each paddle saying Do Not Leave Windlass On Paddle, and painted on the lock edge saying Do Not Fall Into The Lock. No, sorry - that last one won't be necessary once all the locks have safety railings around them!

I don't know what the answer is. How do you stop people becoming complacent once they start to gain a bit of confidence? How can you convince happy holidaymakers that you can't fend off 20 tons of boat heading towards a wall with your hand or foot? How can you suggest that it is not a good idea to have children running around on the roof as the boat hurtles around a corner towards a low bridge? How can you convince people whose children are sitting on the bow with their legs dangling over the side that children don't make very good re-usable fenders?

Health and Safety: Not even the experts get it right every time.


1 comment:

  1. I guess it is the same as with cars, people just don't see or want to see in what dangerous situation they bring their kids.


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