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Safety guides and audits to make your job as a safety professional easier

Fire and Electrical Hazards

fire hazards

Fire and explosions on barges may be caused by:

  • flammable and combustible cleaning solvents, such as Methyl Ethyl Ketone (MEK), mineral spirits, and diesel fuel/oil
  • liquids with high flash points (greater than 100º F) applied as a fine mist
  • airborne particulate or dust
  • hydrogen gas generated during cleaning processes
  • reactive cargoes such as iron-ore, fertilizer, or incompatible chemicals

Fuel Storage

Store engine fuel tanks and compressed gas tanks properly, away from sources of ignition. Only keep onboard quantities of flammable and combustible materials that are necessary for operations and maintenance. Post appropriate danger signs.

Read about why Google’s barges were shut down over fire fears.

A freighter and barge collide in Tampa Bay.
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Ignition Sources

When dealing with work that is capable of providing a source of ignition through a flame or spark (hotwork), such as welding, cutting, burning, drilling, grinding, etc., follow these precautions:

  • Ensure the space is properly tested by a qualified or shipyard-competent person and deemed safe before work is begun.
  • Make sure that proper fire extinguishing equipment is near the work area and that it is maintained in a state of readiness for emergency use.
  • Do not leave oxygen or acetylene hoses unattended.
  • Consider where sparks will fall when doing hotwork and employ a fire watch.
  • oil
    Oil-soaked barge surrounded by oil-containing booms.
  • Shield fuel sources to protect them from ignition sources.
  • Cover openings to prevent sparks from entering.
  • Stop any hotwork if you smell fuel or gas until the source has been identified and the problem fixed.
  • When welding or burning on the deck of a barge, the space below should be inspected to ensure that no flammable atmosphere or combustible materials are present.
  • Use good housekeeping practices to limit the amount of clutter, debris and combustible/flammable material.

Electrical Hazards

Barge grounding clamp and cable.

On barges and other vessels, employees who work with or around electrical equipment in wet or damp locations have an increased risk of getting shocked or electrocuted due to:

  • exposed energized electrical parts
  • open lighting parts (such as broken bulbs, exposed conductors, etc.)
  • damaged insulation on power cords

Electrical equipment (unless this equipment is explosion proof or intrinsically safe) must not be used on hot barges until they are gas free (such as barges that have contained flammable/combustible material including gasoline, methanol, styrene, toluene, etc.).


Non-explosion proof or non-intrinsically safe electrical equipment may be used on a barge after it has been determined the barge is gas-free.

Static electricity can be generated in barge cleaning operations by:

  • friction of different metals
  • movement of grain
  • transfer of liquids
  • mechanical ventilation (such as pneumatic, non-sparking, air movers)
  • vessel docking
  • atmospheric conditions
  • movement of water around the vessel
  • clothing (such as nylon or polyester fabrics, conductive shoes)
  • conductive tools (such as shovels, scrapers, wrenches, and wire brushes)
  • high-pressure washing

Electrical Hazards (Continued)

Damaged wiring can cause an electrical fire.
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Follow these safety measures to help prevent electrical injuries and fires:

  • Make sure that electrical systems are installed by a qualified marine electrician and that electrical systems are inspected regularly.
  • Regularly conduct visual inspections of connections, switches and wiring, which may be subject to corrosion from saltwater and damage from use.
  • All electrical tools or equipment should undergo a visual inspection before use.
  • All portable electric hand and power tools and temporary lighting systems should use Ground-Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI).
  • Electrical tools and equipment should correspond with the requirements of the job.
  • Electrical equipment and tools should be used with proper grounding and circuit protection for the voltage and amperage used.
  • Only qualified electricians should attempt repair of electrical tools and equipment in use.
  • A Ground Assurance Program should be in place for all electrical tools and equipment used including:
    • records of tools inspected and repaired
    • records of electrical boxes inspected and repaired
    • records of electrical extension cords inspected and repaired
    • recall of records of the above

The requirements of the Ground Assurance Program should be performed on a regular basis.

U.S. Coast Guard Regulations for Uninspected Vessels


Fire Extinguishing Equipment [46 CFR 25.30]

Hand-portable fire extinguishers and semi-portable fire extinguishing systems must be of the "B" type (i.e., suitable for extinguishing fires involving flammable liquids, greases, etc.).

  1. Hand-portable fire extinguishers and semi-portable fire extinguishing systems must have a metal name plate listing the name of the item, rated capacity (gallons, quarts or pounds), name and address of person/firm for whom approved, and the manufacturer’s identifying mark.
  2. Portable fire extinguishers must be inspected and weighed every six months.
  3. Minimum number of B-II hand-portable fire extinguishers required to be on board motor vessels: one if less than 50 tons, two if 50-100 tons, three if 100-500 tons, six if 500-1,000 tons, and eight if more than 1,000 tons.
  4. Fixed fire extinguishing systems must be an approved carbon dioxide type and must meet U.S. Coast Guard requirements. (See OSHA Directive CPL 02-01-020, November 1996.)

Backfire Flame Control

Every gasoline engine, except outboard motors, must be equipped with an acceptable means of backfire flame control.


Fuel tanks and engine spaces, using fuel with a flashpoint of 110 degrees Fahrenheit or less, must be provided with adequate ventilation to remove explosive or flammable gases from the fuel tank compartment and bilges.

Accident Summary


A towing vessel was pushing two deck barges to a pile-driving location off the Louisiana coast. While the vessels were underway, a spud on one of the barges suddenly dropped into the water from its raised position.

The spud struck and ruptured a buried high-pressure natural gas pipeline. The gas ignited and created a fireball that engulfed the towing vessel and both barges.

The master of the towing vessel and four barge employees were killed, and one barge employee was listed as missing.

Man Overboard Prevention and Recovery

This NIOSH video will help you learn how to prevent falls overboard and successfully recover a person in water.


Before beginning this quiz, we highly recommend you review the module material. This quiz is designed to allow you to self-check your comprehension of the module content, but only focuses on key concepts and ideas.

Read each question carefully. Select the best answer, even if more than one answer seems possible. When done, click on the "Get Quiz Answers" button. If you do not answer all the questions, you will receive an error message.

Good luck!

1. Fire and explosions on barges may be caused by liquids _____.

2. Which of the following precautions should be taken when dealing with work that is capable of providing a source of ignition through a flame or spark (hotwork)?

3. Movement of grain, transfer of liquids, docking, and mechanical ventilation may all be sources of _____ on a barge.

4. All portable electric hand and power tools, and temporary lighting systems on barges should _____.

5. How often must portable fire extinguishers be inspected and weighed on barges?

Have a great day!

Important! You will receive an "error" message unless all questions are answered.