Page 36 - Australian Defence Magazine Aug 2019
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“Despite the consequentially high risk of chronic injury, ADM understands that there is currently no system in place to monitor the hours Navy personnel spend in RHIBs.”
and boarding party course, RAN person- nel are instructed on ergonomics and body mechanics, including brace positions for extreme manoeuvres, bending of the knees and proper seating positions,” the Defence spokesperson added. “This is aimed at re- ducing the likelihood of injury in both the short and long term.”
However, evidence suggests that these controls may not be enough. The videos of RHIB small craft interceptions mentioned above show personnel sitting on the inflat- able sides of the boat with a twisted pos- ture. This exposes their vertebrae to shear- ing forces that are greatly magnified by the significant weight of equipment they carry, which can be upwards of 20 kilograms – or 280 kilograms at 14G (roughly the force a fighter pilot will experience in an ejection). The practice may not be in accordance with RAN training, but its visibility in official media channels suggests proper posture on RHIBs is either difficult to achieve or poorly enforced.
This means passengers are still placed at increased risk of chronic musculoskeletal in- jury. A US study into self-reported injuries amongst 154 operators from three Special Boat squadrons with roughly five years aver-
age exposure to fast boats found that 94.8 per cent of all their injuries occurred on the job.
These injuries resulted in a total of 145 days of hospitalization, 929 days of sick leave, 4,223 days of limited duty, 4,218 days of limited performance and 2,294 days of lost training. One case study describes a patient with ten years of exposure to high speed wa- tercraft who required six spinal operations, had three hernias, tinnitus, artery entrap- ment in the knee, hypothyroidism, hypo- gonadism and multiple incidences of acute compartment syndrome, which can cause tissue death. The patient was 34 years old.
Environmental factors
Exposure to cold is an additional factor degrading performance post-transit and possibly chronic health outcomes. A basic wind chill calculation shows that personnel in a RHIB travelling at 40 knots in five de- grees ambient temperature will experience a wind chill of -3 degrees.
When the ambient temperature drops to -5 degrees – not uncommon in winter in the Sea of Japan – the wind chill drops to -17 degrees. This is a best case scenario in which the occupants are dry and there is no pre- vailing wind, conditions that are unlikely
on a fast boat approaching a suspect North Korean tanker.
Despite the consequentially high risk of chronic injury, ADM understands that there is currently no system in place to monitor the hours Navy personnel spend in RHIBs.
“Navy does not track and record the hours that individual personnel spend in boats, however boat coxswains track their experience in a watercraft operators log,” a Defence spokesperson said.
Defence’s response also did not mention whether personnel are covered for chronic injuries specifically sustained through pro- longed RHIB exposure.
“All Defence personnel are required to re- cord any incident or potential incident that has, or could have caused injury. These re- ports form a database that is used for safety trend analysis," a Defence spokesperson said.
"If a Defence member does get injured through the conduct of their duty, whether in a boat or from any other Defence related tasking, they are covered in accordance with the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensa- tion (Defence-related Claims) Act 1988 or the Military Rehabilitation and Compen- sation Act 2004. The member will receive immediate medical and ongoing rehabilita- tion with potential compensation and other benefits.
“Rehabilitation programs attempt to re- turn members to work, in some capacity, as soon as possible after injury, with the aim
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