Safety at Sea
At school, we have fire drills, tornado drills, lockdown drills, and other protocols in place to keep students, parents, teachers, and staff safe. Things at sea are no different. As soon as we set sail on the Ron Brown Tuesday morning, we were warned that we would have a series of drills to ensure everyone would know what to do in case of an emergency. Our first drill was a fire drill. My muster point (meeting place) was in the main science lab. From there, the leader did a head count to make sure everyone was accounted for.
Our second drill was an “Abandon Ship” drill. When the alarm rang, we had to get our “abandon ship” gear — survival suit, life jacket, long-sleeved shirt, and hat — and convene at the Life Raft Muster Station. Altogether this equipment weighs about 10–15 lbs and must be carried up several narrow, steep staircases in a hurry in order to get out onto the ship’s deck. We also had to demonstrate proficiency in putting on the gear as quickly as possible. Donning the survival suit was the trickiest task. Think of wet suits commonly worn by divers. Now imagine squeezing into one while wearing jeans and a hoodie … not an easy task, but a very necessary skill at sea. We have begun referring to the survival suit as a “Gumby” suit, since it is difficult to move around much while wearing it, and the glove portion of the suit is like a three-fingered mitten.
In addition to ship’s drills, there are science lab safety procedures in place. Fire extinguishers are readily available, as are eyewash stations and emergency showers. There are two different types of eyewash stations on board the Ron Brown. Either of these would be used in the event that someone got chemicals into their eyes. The emergency shower would be used to rinse off after a chemical spill. Many chemicals are used to preserve specimens collected during this type of research cruise, so it is imperative that safety procedures are followed.
In the science classroom, our personal protective equipment generally includes safety goggles, gloves, and lab aprons or lab coats. On board a research vessel, scientists must also wear these types of protection. In certain situations, they may use fume hoods or respirators so they do not inhale any harmful fumes. Researchers also must ensure that chemicals are stored properly and disposed of in the correct manner. On the deck, when cranes are moving heavy equipment like the ROV Jason, scientists and crew members are required to wear hard hats and steel-toed boots. Just like at home, safety is an important aspect of life at sea.