OSH Matters

Growing interest in Occupational Safety and Health

The First and Last Voyage of the Titanic

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Title: The first and last voyage

This epic romantic disaster movie has been heralded as the film of the decade it was released in, December 19th, 1997. It has been recorded as the highest-grossing film world-wide of all time, hitting the billion-dollar mark. A fictionalized love story written by James Cameron, intertwined with tragic human loss, sought to convey the emotional message of the historical disaster that occurred on April 14th, 1912. The Titanic, aka the “Ship of Dreams”, is a definite tear-jerker movie that if you have not seen by now, please stock up on the tissues or prepare to taste those salty tears on your lips.  The story sets the stage where two complete strangers from different classes of society are drawn to each other in the midst of an impending tragedy that explores the notion of unconditional love (not a cliché story line back then).  A seventeen-year-old aristocrat, Rose De Witt Bukater, portrayed by the talented Kate Winslet, falls in love with a poor artist, Jack Dawson, (Leonardo DiCaprio), aboard the luxurious yet ill-fated  Titanic ship. The flashback told by a now 100 year old Rose, 84 years later recounts the romantic story to her granddaughter and others about the incident that happened on the “unsinkable” ship.

The aim of this blog post is to analyze the possible occupational safety and health challenges that may have occurred leading up to the 20th century Titanic’s watery grave and to recommend corrective and preventative action. After viewing the movie for the umpteenth time and it still gives you that burn in the throat while the waterworks flow,  the questions arise: could have, should have and would have this disaster been avoided with  modern day OSH measures?  The top six prevalent challenges we sighted are poor engineering and design materials, operating at dangerous levels of speed, lack of parameter security, insufficient emergency safety equipment and supplies, lack of training in risk management and emergency procedures and exposure to multiple physical hazards.

One of the most catastrophic factors that resulted in the sinking of the “unsinkable” Titanic was as a result of its poor engineering. The ship was made up of low quality steel and wrought iron rivets and because of its brittle structure and the speed at which it was sailing at the time of impact with the iceberg caused the wrought iron rivets to pop like champagne bottles and the hull to be punctured. According to [Gannon 1995], high quality steel upon impact would either just bend or deform rather than fracture. Further evidence of the low quality steel was when it was subjected to a Charpy Test. This test is used to measure the brittleness of a material. Two different types of steel were tested, a modern day high quality steel and the Titanic steel. When the coupon of the modern day steel was tested, the pendulum swung down and the piece of steel bent into a “V” shape, in contrast, when the coupon of the steel from the Titanic was tested, the pendulum swung and with the impact, it broke to pieces. Therefore, when the ship collided with the iceberg, the hull steel did not just get deformed, but it was fractured allowing for water to seep through.

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The wrought iron rivets were weak; this is one of the important elements of safety in the construction of ships. The rivets that seal the compartments are supposed to be very strong as this keeps the vessel afloat, unfortunately however, the rivets were too weak and with the impact of the collision, it forced the rivets to burst open convicting the majority of the passengers on board to a very frosty death. These poor quality, faulty rivets led to a scientific review of the evidence issued in Physics World which stated that this meant that this part of the hull that collided with the iceberg was very frail compared to that of the main body of the Titanic.

In addition, if the material used to construct this vessel was of a higher quality, the force of the collision may not have caused the rivet heads to pop off leading sections of the vessel to come apart, they may have stayed together and may not have sunk or it may have stayed afloat for longer than within the three hours in which it sank. The rescue ships could have been able to get to her, saving many more lives and one must wonder; even saving a long life of love between Rose and Jack (lol). The Titanic was structured in a way to stay afloat if even up to four of its sealed compartments were flooded but due to its poor construction by the engineers, the rivets popped quickly and easily so a fifth compartment flooded which then brought her to her doom.

Another key OSH issue that was present in Titanic that accelerates the movie literally and figuratively, was the decision by Captain Edward John Smith to operate the vessel at an unsafe speed in order to dock at an earlier than expected time. This selfish and blinded decision resulted in a series of disastrous events where the ship was unable to slow down and turn before colliding with the iceberg.

It took three steps to carry out any order in the engine room. The chain of command needed to take any action was far too lengthy. After spotting the iceberg, the officer aft would have had to signal the pilot that the ship needs to slow ahead, then the pilot would have to agree the movement can be carried out and signal the engine room, where the engineers would then carry out the order. A shorter chain of command would have given the engineers in the engine room more time in order to carry out the signal, i.e. slowing down, these few precious moments would have helped in avoiding the disaster. Another contributing factor was the fact that the ship was not fully tested and the engines have never operated under such speeds, when the captain ordered Mr. Murdoch the ship’s pilot to carry out the command to engage full speed ahead.

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The lack of proper security and security enforcement or rather the Master or Arms as referred to in the movie, aboard the ship was another one of the OSH risks present. We can see that security was minimal around the ship, drawing from the scene where Rose attempts to commit suicide, there was only one sign warning of the dangerous propeller blades, and there was no security around to ensure the safety of passengers. There were no visible security patrols on the outskirts of the ship. Also, from the scene with Jack and Fabrizio and also Jack and Rose, where they were at the front of the ship on top of the railing, an area that was restricted to passengers we can see that there was no security around to caution them and have them moved back to a safer area of the ship. To correct this problem more frequent and stricter security patrols and an efficient security system could be implemented to ensure the safety of passengers.

One disturbing fact revealed to Rose during a walk around the ship accompanied by Thomas Andrews, the ship builder, was the insufficiency of emergency safety equipment and supplies aboard the ship.  Based on statistics there were 2223 people onboard the majestic titanic, which included passengers and crew members, and only a mere 20 lifeboats, which was a deficit of 44 boats to safely rescue the persons onboard. Just imagine the confusion and concern Rose would have experienced on the decision to withhold  lifesaving emergency devices such as a lifeboat in order to gain more deck space. It raises issues of whether safety inspections were performed ensuring the ship was well equipped for disaster to save each life despite social standing and class in life. Was it ethical to determine that only the bourgeois class (the better half of people according to Cal, Rose’s fiancé) should be privileged to board the lifeboats while the proletariats are left in despair?  There also seemed to be a lack of lighting equipment to guide the ship in the dark open sea which may have also assisted in spotting the iceberg at an earlier time. Crew members were seen scampering during the disaster handing out life jackets to passengers, but was it sufficient to save them? Corrective measures should have been taken to alleviate the number of innocent lives lost due to the frigid temperatures or drowning. A proper risk assessment (research and planning) should have been done to determine the number of lifeboats required onboard the vessel in direct proportion to the size of the vessel and number of persons aboard the ship.

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Evident in the movie was the lack of training in risk management and emergency procedures amongst the staff of the R.M.S Titanic. Firstly, Captain Smith should have ignored his ego and Mr. Ismay, the managing director of White Star Line to go faster despite warnings of icebergs sighted received, which could have been avoided with careful training of risk management and prevention. The workers in the boiler room compartments were not trained on any emergency procedures in case of a disaster, they were scampering for their lives to safety before the water tight doors were shut with no regard to the lives of these workers. The crew members also lacked training on how to effectively communicate the emergency to guests aboard the ship as there seemed to be no efficient warning system or alert installed to signal danger. Chaos erupted when trying to load the life boats causing crew members to attempt to lock off access to third class passengers and use pistols to gain control of the crowd.  The crew tried to rescue and secure the safety of the first class passengers rather than the second and third class passengers who were locked below deck and they were firstly affected from the flooded ship. As statistics shows 60 percent of first-class passengers survived while only 25 percent of third-class passengers were rescued. It was “women and children first,” and males traveling first-class second. This was seen as an unethical act due to the fact that first class passengers were boarded first and boats were half filled, some with only twelve passengers that could hold sixty five persons total. In addition to there being an insufficient number of lifeboats, the crew was insufficiently trained regarding their use. Given the great size and the massive publicity surrounding her maiden voyage, more than 2,200 passengers and crew were on board. As a result, risk was unusually high owing to the potential loss of so many lives. The “Titanic Rule” should have been put into effect before the crew left Southampton, England for the U.S. by this equation: Massive size + Excessive speed + Delayed information + Insufficient risk mitigation (too few lifeboats) + Heightened value (2,200 passengers) + Arrogance of Process (“unsinkable”) = Recalibrate your risk assessment before pulling up anchor. As risk managers, we adapt this rule to fit any number of situations. By titling it the Titanic Rule, we assign risk management the urgency it deserves.

The crew members that worked in the engine room experienced significant exposure to many hazards, as we can see there was a lack of proper safety gear and equipment being utilized by these crew members, who shoveled tons (approximately 825 tons) of coal to create the steam needed to power the vessel. Their clothing seemed tattered and barely protective, making them vulnerable to the intense heat that exist in such working conditions. Overheating was probably possible as this area of the ship showed little to no detail on the ventilation system in place for these workers. It is also revealed in the movie, the noise levels in this area was extremely loud and possibly exceeded the maximum decibel level for human beings. Working in such a constricted area with many persons (approximately 176 men) shoveling coal into the burners can result in the occurrence of many accidents, also walking along high rise platforms without any protective equipment can result in the occurrence of many accidents. These accidents could be avoided by simply providing the crew members with proper personal protection equipment such as ropes, harnesses, gloves, coveralls and face masks.

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One hundred and three years later, this movie perspective on the Titanic allows us to apply modern day OSH measures to the challenges they faced in their century. For the hopeless romantics and OSH enthusiasts, maybe we can accept that the poor engineering and design materials used for the ship represents the weak and unstable relationship design between Cal ( a steel tycoon) and Rose that escalated quickly at dangerous levels and ended so suddenly. Also maybe the lack of parameter security catalyzed the introduction between Rose and Jack and establish, “If you jump, I jump.” In addition to that, we may interpret the crew’s lack of training in risk management and emergency procedures that forced Rose despite ample opportunities to board a lifeboat to ensure she spent every last breathing minute with the love of her life, Jack. Although they were exposed to the hazards of high levels of noise and heat when they ran through the boiler room to the luggage area, they survived and got even steamier themselves! It is still widely debated whether there really was room on the door for both Jack and Rose who failed to get on to a lifeboat due to insufficient lifeboats. It can be agreed however, with a combination of factors such as quality engineering, safe speeds, increased security system, sufficient safety and emergency equipment, proper risk management and emergency procedures and hazard controls, these may have improved the chances of the Titanic docking at its New York destination. It leaves us questioning, what was the greater tragedy?-  the sinking of the unsinkable or the unfinished love story between Rose and Jack, you be the judge!

References:

“Titanic: The Mother of All Disasters and Everyday Risk.” Titanic: The Mother of All Disasters and Everyday Risk. By Kevin McPoyle, CIC, 9 Apr. 2012. Web. 9 Oct. 2015. <http://www.propertycasualty360.com/2012/04/09/titanic-the-mother-of-all-disasters-and-everyday-r&gt;.

Beat Box, Khmer. “TITANIC Full Movie 1997 English-Ver (Ly Sopheak) No 1 Had.” YouTube. YouTube. Web. 9 Oct. 2015. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UZ8la_6cuI&n

 

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2 thoughts on “The First and Last Voyage of the Titanic

  1. Titanic was definitely a good disaster movie, and therefore well suited to your blog article. You have pointed out many safety issues documented in your referenced sources, and you have talked about some personal safety elements as well. Definitely, physical hazards would have been paramount in the movie, and you have mentioned quite a few of them including cold and drowning.Were any ergonomic, chemical, and even biological safety hazards evident during the course of the movie?

    Liked by 1 person

    • An ergonomic hazard occurs due to the type of work, body posture and working conditions which causes a nervous tension on your body. They are usually the most difficult type of hazard to situate since you don’t always immediately notice the pressure on your body or the harm that these hazards pose. Ergonomic hazards include: poor posture, having to use too much strength especially if you have to do it regularly, awkward movements, numerous lifting and vibration. Ergonomic hazards occurred in the movie where the person on the lookout tower was crunched into a small space to look out for any oncoming objects. The lookout towers was evidently uncomfortable and small and the workers there were subjected to spending long hours in this space. They should have designed the tower in a way that will be suitable for the comfort of the worker and therefore they will be able to perform their job efficiently, unlike what occur on board the titanic.

      A chemical hazard is where a worker is exposed to any chemical reaction in the workplace and it could be in any form such as; solid, liquid or gas. Some workers are sensitive to chemical hazards and even regular solutions can cause illness, skin irritation, or breathing problems. Workers should also be aware of these harmful chemicals entering or inhaling these chemicals into their body such as; pesticides, flammable materials, carbon monoxide, vapors and fumes and liquids containing acids such as bleach and hydrogen peroxide. The workers in the boiler room on the Titanic ship were subdued to the emissions from the coals. These smoky conditions may have contributed to asthma attacks and skin irritations and other conditions. The chemical hazards seen in this movie with regard to the smoke emissions were secondary at the time of the building of the ship however with modern day advances in technology and the smoke could have been reduced using electricity to power the ship and not coals.
      As was evident in the movie where the ship had already hit the ice berg the smoke fumes emitted from the tall towers that was on top of the ship itself, lead to an exhaust from the boiler rooms which could have affected the passengers. These are airborne contaminants and could be solved by redesigning the process to reduce exposure.

      A biological hazard is associated with working with animals, people, or infectious plant materials. A person can be exposed to a biological hazard at work in schools, day care facilities, colleges and universities, hospitals, laboratories, emergency response, nursing homes, outdoor occupations, etc. Biological hazards include: blood and other body fluids, fungi/mold, bacteria and viruses, plants, insect bites, animal and bird droppings. They only inspected the third class passengers for lice, and other sicknesses whilst the first class passengers may have had these sicknesses and lice that were not checked hence they could have carried it onto the boat, and infected other passengers. To eliminate this problem they should have checked every individual to ensure an intensive and efficient hygiene and medical check was done to prevent the transmission of these biological hazards.

      Liked by 1 person

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