Two separate issues involving CSIRO-managed research vessels have highlighted some of the challenges faced when maintaining workplace health and safety standards on the water.
Health and safety concerns raised by staff over the suitability of an interim replacement for a decommissioned research vessel operating in Western Australia has prompted CSIRO to commit to a timeframe to reach a decision on a permanent solution.
Elsewhere, the cancellation in January of an upcoming voyage of research vessel (RV) Investigator due to Covid has led to speculation that CSIRO will review COVID-19 safety plans for the boat and future operations.
RV Linnaeus is a small CSIRO research vessel operating out of Western Australia that is currently decommissioned due to engine failure. In the subsequent nine months, as an interim solution, CSIRO has hired a charter vessel in place of RV Linnaeus to continue research work.
However, with no decision on a permanent replacement for RV Linnaeus in sight, CSIRO staff and their representatives have raised genuine health and safety concerns associated about the continued use of the commercial charter vessel for the research work being undertaken.
Informed by the advice of the local Health and Safety Representative and Staff Association delegate, the union relayed these concerns to CSIRO management.
“CSIRO’s own option paper clearly outlines the false economy to continue the use of commercial charter operations while decisions are delayed on repair of the RV Linnaeus; all while having to manage significant workplace health and safety issues due to commercial charter vessel design without critical controls in place to mitigate hazards on the charter vessel,” Staff Association Secretary Susan Tonks said.
“The Staff Association understands the importance and priority of the ongoing research work being carried out across multiple projects; however we are very concerned with the delay on the decision and the subsequent health and safety concerns associated with the continued use of the commercial charter vessel for the research work being undertaken,” Ms Tonks said.
Following a meeting between the Staff Association representatives, and senior leadership from both Oceans and Atmosphere and National Collections Marine Infrastructure, CSIRO has committed to make a final decision on whether to recommission RV Linnaeus by 28 February 2022.
The positive Covid test of a voyage participant was picked up during routine screening as part of the pre-departure medical clearance period conducted by RV Investigator while in dock at Hobart.
“Medical professionals have provided advice and direct support to voyage participants on the ship to ensure they receive the best possible care for their health and wellbeing,” a statement from CSIRO read.
RV Investigator was due to embark on eight-week voyage to Antarctica, led by Geoscience Australia, to study changes in Antarctic bottom water and how climate change could affect future ocean circulation.
The Staff Association understands that the incident has led to a review of Covid-safe protocols involving RV Investigator and may lead to significant changes to the conduct of future voyages.