“Minus 15 degrees Celsius or more can be commonplace in January and that is without wind chill”: how our service engineers cope with extreme cold.

Although much of northern Europe enjoyed the hottest February on record only several weeks ago, temperatures that plummeted to minus 17 degrees Celsius were presenting a real challenge for our service engineers, who often work in extreme climatic conditions.

How do our service engineers prepare for working outside in colder climates, when winter presents a special set of challenges to health, safety and efficiency? Also, how do they adopt best practices in such circumstances when the potential for an accident is so much higher? Working outdoors has its hazards, even in the best of weather, but the dangers increase considerably in the winter months. The Diesel and Marine Group has a duty of care towards its workforce and has equipped its employees with specialist clothing to meet the demands of the jobs that they undertake.

We spoke with our seals service manager, Kevin McGill, to gain an insight into how he approaches working outside in cold weather.

“To work comfortably outside when the temperature drops,” Kevin tells us, “I have to be particularly mindful of the wind-chill factor as we are working at coastal locations with no natural barriers to give shelter and frostbite is a possibility. It’s also really important to eat properly and to keep an eye on each other in icy, slippery conditions. We are provided with a range of workwear that traps the heat, allowing us to adjust clothing as our activities change. It’s about achieving a balance, wearing enough layers to keep warm but not so hot as to sweat excessively which can then cool your body down when you’re less active. We also need to be able to move freely and have a high degree of tactility with our hands whilst keeping them warm.”

Kevin pointed out that ships in drydock create an exaggerated and localised wind effect, whereby surrounding air is sucked downwards into the basin and along the bottom of the ship.

“The hull design on a ship is shaped to draw water along its length and out through the propeller and rudder. A drydock naturally draws air into its basin (as it sits below sea level) and along the hull in exactly the same way as water. In winter, this is particularly dangerous when scaffolding is erected around the propeller area, as winds tend to be stronger at this time of year. I have seen poorly erected scaffolding come apart and equipment blown around.”

The cold weather can certainly take its toll on Kevin and his colleagues who brave these temperatures for long periods during the winter months.

“Many of our European work locations are based on the North Sea. We often complain about the UK feeling cold, however coastal Germany, The Netherlands and other countries further north can be much colder. I finished a job in Rotterdam recently and the temperature in the drydock dipped well into the teens. Minus 15 degrees Celsius or more can be commonplace in January and that is without wind chill, on one such day, we were working in the drydock for a full nine hours which really tested us to breaking point!”

Kevin concluded with

“The right combination of clothing is critical, 85% of my working time is spent outside on the exterior propeller and stern tube assemblies. I know that once I am down there, (the drydock) I cannot come up to ground level easily and will be engaged in uninterrupted work for several hours. I cannot waste precious time as we have very tight schedules, my clothing must not let me down!”

The Diesel and Marine Group provides engineers who maintain and repair sterntube seals as well as specialist engineers working on a range of the following diesel and gas engines:

  • Allen
  • Bergen
  • Dorman
  • MaK
  • MAN 4 stroke
  • Mirrlees Blackstone
  • Nohab Polar
  • Paxman Valenta/Y3J
  • Perkins 4000
  • Pielstick PC 2.5, 2.6
  • Ruston
  • Vasa
  • Wärtsilä