The Coast Guard withdrew the services of its in-shore rescue boats stationed at 23 locations around the coast on Friday last, 15 November 2019. This action was taken following a reported malfunction of a number of lifejackets which are a key piece of personal protective equipment. An investigation is underway into the malfunctioning lifejackets which involves the Coast Guard, the supplier and the manufacturer. It is hoped to identify the cause and provide for a speedy, effective and safe solution.
This action is being taken in compliance with Coast Guards SAR assurance obligations as set out in the National SAR Plan to ensure safety of Coast Guard boat crews. The National SAR Committee met on Monday 18 November and was briefed on the matter. In the meantime, from a SAR coverage point of view, the Coast Guard is deploying various contingencies based on an assessment of risk. All shoreline and cliff rescue services remain in place, along with the four Search and Rescue Coast Guard helicopters. The RNLI, Community Inshore Rescue Boats, and Naval Service will continue to assist particularly in those areas of greatest risk until the issue has been resolved.
As regards other concerns raised previously, the Irish Coast Guard addressed these at the time through a programme of both internal and external testing. Along with independent testing through a UK based Testing Laboratory regarding the EN ISO standards applicable and assurances received from the manufacturer of the lifejacket in question.
As regards broader issues of safety in our national search and rescue service, I would draw the Deputy’s attention to the recent review of our National Search and Rescue Framework which was published in July last and the publication of a new National Search and Rescue Plan. The review was chaired independently by Sir Alan Massey, ex CEO of the UK’s Maritime and Coastguard Agency.
The Report welcomed the establishment by the IRCG of a new Safety, Quality and Compliance (SQC) section, and appointing therein a dedicated Health and Safety Officer to provide oversight of the SMS, working with the Department’s Safety Officer(s) to embed and improve Health and Safety policy, procedures, goals and objectives. Further, the IRCG has committed to implementing an effective SMS, applicable to the specific needs of the IRCG and in line with the mandatory requirements of ISO 45001:2018 - Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems (SMS Revision & Accreditation – SRA - Project). This work is already helping inform other entities within the SAR system who are seeking to improve their Safety Management Systems. The recent issue with lifejackets and the response to that is evidence of safety management in action.
At a national level, the new National SAR Plan delivers a new mechanism of assurance in relation to standards and practices and oversight of the overall Search and Rescue system. This includes a support network to assist those involved in search and rescue to develop minimum standards and practices and to embed principles of continuous improvement and safety within their organisations. It also creates a new Search and Rescue Regulators’ Forum, a unique initiative which brings transport regulators in the Search and Rescue domain together to exchange good practice and seek to improve the overall system assurance mechanisms.