10,000 Pound Buoy Falls on Workers

By Kim Smiley

On December 10, 2014, a buoy that weighs close to 10,000 pounds fell onto workers at an inactive ship maintenance facility in Pearl Harbor. Two workers were killed and two others sustained injuries. While an object this large is an extreme example of the dangers of dropped objects, worker injuries and deaths from falling objects of all sizes is a significant safety concern. A US census report of fatal occupation injuries states that 245 workers were killed after being struck by falling objects in 2013 alone.

The case of the dropped buoy can be built into a Cause Map, a visual root cause analysis, to better understand what happened. Understanding the details of an accident is necessary to ensure that a wide range of solutions is considered and that any solutions implemented will be effective at preventing future incidents.

The investigation into the falling buoy is still underway so some information is not yet available, but it can easily be incorporated into the Cause Map once it is known. Any causes that need more information or evidence can be noted with a question mark to show that there is still an open question.

Exactly what caused the buoy to drop hasn’t been released yet, but it is known that the safety lines attached to the buoy failed. Both of these issues need to be investigated to ensure that solutions can be implemented to prevent further tragedies.

Additionally, there are open questions about why people were working under the path of the lift. The workers were wearing hard hats, but this is obviously inadequate protection against a 10,000 buoy. The contractors were working to strengthen mooring lines at the time of the accident, but no one should be where they could be crushed if such a large object was dropped, as it was in this case. As stated by Jeff Romeo, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Honolulu area director, “We’re still looking at the facts to try to determine the exact locations of where these employees were located. If in fact, they were working directly underneath the load, then that would be an alarming situation.”

The OSHA investigation is currently underway and is expected to take four to six months. Additionally, the Navy is launching a Safety Investigation Board to review the accident with findings expected to be released by February. Once the investigation is complete, work processes will need to be reviewed to see what changes need to be made to prevent any future injuries from falling objects.

To view an initial Cause Map of this incident, click on “Download PDF” above.