Hats Off

During the last two weeks I worked in the shipyard, I was struck in the head two times.

The second time I was struck in the head, I was working under the center-line pipe rack on British Petroleum oil tanker #4 (BP4). My coworker was standing on the pipe rack, using a 6-8 foot scaffold pipe as leverage to move around the larger pipes in the rack. Apparently, he lost his grip. The pipe fell vertically and hit the deck about a foot to my side, bounced, and struck my head as it fell over. I wasn’t hurt, but it really scared me.

The first time I was struck in the head, I was working on BP4 with a crane, a couple riggers and a couple coworkers on my pipe crew. It was in the afternoon, and we were landing 2 new center-line pipe racks. For those of you unfamiliar with shipbuilding, these racks are about 20-30 feet long, 15 feet wide and the pipes which come mounted on the rack, are bolted to I-beams which are about 8 feet off the ground. It’s been so long, I can only guess, but these racks probably weighed about 15 tons. Unfortunately, one of these racks landed on an adjacent structure in such a way that no one noticed. But what compounded this misfortune is that a worker had hung his tool bag on this structure, and at the end of the shift, was unable to remove his tool bag.

So, the few of us who were around began brainstorming for the quickest way to free this tool bag. We could use a Sawzall, but that would take too long. We could torch it off, but that would burn the tool bag. We could lift the pipe mounted in the pipe rack off of the structure… Yup, we had a winner.

A couple people began to loosing the U-bolts near the pinch point. I grabbed a nearby Porta-Power and placed it under the pipe, and someone else placed a 6 foot 2×4 between the Porta-Power and the pipe.

I think I need to mention that a Porta-Power (Enerpac RC-502) is a small hydraulic jack that stands about 4 inches tall, has about a 3 inch throw, and is capable of lifting 50 tons.

With everything in place, I began operating the hand-pump. The 2×4 slowly raised up to meet the pipe, and stopped for a second. Cool, no sweat. This always happens. I just needed to keep pumping until there was enough force on the pipe to flex it, right? At this point, the dude to my right said something to a coworker in Spanish. It was also at this point that we discovered that wood can explode! (That’s right, explode. Not crack, splinter or split, but explode! Meaning, many pieces went in many directions and very fast.)

I now need to mention that Porta-Powers only have a 4 foot hydraulic hose and that I was crouched rather close to the 2×4 while operating the hand pump.

A piece of the now fragmented 2×4 struck my face with enough force that it knocked me back, knocked my hard hat off and broke the frame of my glasses at the nose bridge. Did I mention that I was crouching next to an opening in the deck? Luckily, I didn’t fall in, but my hard hat made it all the way to the bottom — 80 feet below.

After the fact, I was told that the coworker speaking in Spanish was telling someone, “Tell him to stop, the 2×4 is bending!” Doh!

The guys were able to get the tool bag off. I believe they further loosened the U-bolts and may have used a scaffold pipe instead of a 2×4.

5 Responses to “Hats Off”

  1. Dan Says:

    So this is a saved up story that you never posted? Just trying to figure out what prompted this story. Nothing NEW hit your head today did it?

  2. Mark Says:

    I had a free hour and didn’t want to watch television or start a game or anything, so I picked one of my ‘incidents’ to write about. I’ve still got two topics in the cue… and more as I think of them.

  3. Steve Says:

    That “80 feet below” part is freaky. Talk about not being able to play raquetball!

  4. Chad Says:

    yeah. seriously. you aren’t back at the shipyard right? too many close calls. obviously. cool stories though. also. wanna be a pal and link my site? also, goodluck with that knee.

  5. Chad Says:


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