Freefall Safety Improvement Led by Schat-Harding

Schat-Harding is leading the development of new seats, safety belts and head protection for freefall lifeboats which will dramatically improve safety in the offshore industry.

New research has shown that some passengers in high-drop freefall boats can be exposed to very high g forces, especially when the boat is launched into heavy seas. Current lifeboat regulations do not take these into account, and that has led to rig shut downs in some sea conditions as lifeboat capacity has had to be derated to suit the conditions. So Schat-Harding, working with the Norwegian offshore employers' federation OLF, is designing a new seat, seat belt and head protection arrangement which will ensure that all personnel in the lifeboat are protected from high g forces when launched even into the troughs of large waves.

The new seats and head restraints are being tested at the TNO Automotive test centre in Eindhoven, The Netherlands. Ten different sleigh tests will be carried out with dummies with different height and weight ranges, using technology similar to that used to test car seat belts. The tests are based on a worst case scenario with waves up to 15 m significant height. The seats themselves are being developed by Schat-Harding, and Lloyds Industri AS is developing the new belts for Schat-Harding.

When the tests are complete the new seats and restraints will enter production and will be available for retrofit to the FF1000 and FF48 freefall boats, and will be fitted as standard in new offshore freefall boats. The same technology will then be extended to the range of merchant ship freefall boats, which although generally used from lower drop heights will need upgrading to account for the fact that seafarers are becoming heavier and taller.

Schat-Harding is working ahead of changes to regulations and leading the way for industry. It hopes that changes will be made to SOLAS to account for wave heights and for larger passengers so that all freefall boats will in future meet Schat-Harding standards.