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Worker trapped underwater when bulkhead collapsed

Date of incident: August 2015
Notice of incident number: 2015111080094
Employer: Tug and barge company

Incident summary
Four workers in a marine yard were standing on a bulkhead used for loading and unloading barges. The bulkhead was constructed out of raw logs approximately 20 to 25 years earlier. Two barges were tied to the bulkhead, and the workers on the barges were talking to the workers on the bulkhead. The bulkhead suddenly collapsed and fell into the water. One worker was trapped underwater by debris and did not survive. The other workers were able to scramble to safety.

Investigation conclusions


  • Bulkhead undermined from below and then collapsed: With the deterioration of the logs and the forces of the tide and current acting upon it, the backfill behind the bulkhead migrated between the logs and then was washed into the sea. Accordingly, the bulkhead was undermined from below. The remaining backfill behind the bulkhead unexpectedly collapsed. Four workers were standing on the bulkhead when it collapsed. One worker was trapped in the debris and did not survive.

Underlying factors

  • Ineffective workplace inspections: The employer did not conduct effective workplace inspections. Had the company done so, the erosion and undermining of the fill behind the bulkhead would have been identified.
  • Ineffective measures to prevent collapse: The condition of the bulkhead was not properly investigated. As a result, the undermining of the backfill was not identified as having compromised the structural integrity of the bulkhead. Accordingly, the procedures implemented by the employer to redistribute the loads placed upon the bulkhead would not have prevented the eventual collapse of the bulkhead.
  • Failure to remedy a known hazardous condition: The employer was aware of the compromised condition of the bulkhead and aware that it was unsafe to use. While preliminary steps had been taken to replace it, the use of the bulkhead continued and it was not repaired. The employer knowingly permitted a hazardous condition to persist by not repairing the bulkhead and permitting workers to continue to use it.

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Publication Date: Aug 2017 Asset type: Incident Investigation Report Summary NI number: 2015111080094