Burn injury to engineer

Vessel Type: Tanker

Incident description

When carrying out a routine inspection of the engine room, the first engineer noticed steam leaking from the main steam dump valve gasket.  After the vessel arrived at the next port anchorage, he instructed the second and third engineers to stop the boiler operation and drain all steam and water from the system and ensure that it was completely empty and de-pressurised. Later, the first engineer was informed that the system  had been drained and isolated and he started  to dismantle the valve to  identify the cause of the leak.  As he removed the valve bonnet, steam and hot water  blew out from the joint at high pressure causing extensive burns across his face and body. The injured engineer was immediately transferred to the ship’s hospital and was later evacuated ashore by helicopter for urgent medical treatment due to the seriousness of his burns.


This type of burn injury is typical of the many reported to the UK P&I Club every year. The crew thought the pipeline had been properly drained, but pressurised steam and hot water remained in the system, either because the procedure for doing so was not correctly followed or because the section of pipeline being worked was not properly isolated from other parts of the steam system. The first engineer’s confidence that the system was safe may have caused him to be complacent when breaking open the valve joint and not taking care to slacken off the securing bolts to the minimum.

Lessons Learnt

  • Work on steam or hot fluid systems should be subject to a thorough risk assessment, permit to work and a tool box talk involving the full work team
  • Crew must be fully familiar with correct operational and maintenance procedures when working with heated machinery systems
  • Ensure isolation valves on each side of the work are properly closed, locked and labelled to prevent them being opened by mistake
  • Measures taken to de-pressurise, drain and cool the system should be identified and recorded by the work team
  • Be vigilant and never make assumptions as to the safety of steam and hot fluid systems
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