Pains Wessex, one of the world’s leading marine distress signals brands, is calling for a standardisation in the laws governing replacing dated safety products to enhance marine safety.

Top brand Pains Wessex says that in some countries, including the US, signals in annually-serviced liferafts can legitimately be up to 17 months out-of-date before being replaced and it is helping to lobby for standardised safety laws.

Flares Can Be 17 Months Beyond Expiry Date

Product manager, Keith Bradford, says, “Potentially, it could be a matter of life or death if the signal does not work because it has been in service too long. Our concern is for the safety of users and that the products perform to legislated SOLAS safety standards throughout their service life.

“Under current regulations some administrations, such as the United States Coastguard, allow signals to be left in the liferaft if they are not out of date at the time of the service, which could mean that they are almost 12 months out of date when the next service takes place.

“In addition, rafts can be allowed an extra five months’ grace if the vessel is not near an approved service station. So, altogether, a flare could be up to 17 months beyond its fixed life.”

The main problem is that pyrotechnics degrade with age and red flares turn pinkish white. “Red is the worst colour for fading. Eventually, you may not recognise it as a distress signal,” added Mr Bradford.

“Also, flares tend to burn longer at lower candle power, so you have the added risk of a parachute flare still burning when it hits the ground or sea, with an additional fire risk.”

Expiry dates on life products are there for a reason and should not be ignored, warns Mr Bradford. This applies to other lifed items fitted in rafts such as water, rations and light batteries.

“When conducting a raft service, if a lifed product is going to be out of date by the next scheduled service, we believe it should be replaced there and then.”

Flares’ Estimated Service Life Varied by Country

At the moment, all IMO/SOLAS (Safety Of Life At Sea) regulations state that the service life of pyrotechnics is determined by the local marine administration. For instance, Pains Wessex uses SeeBG (See-Berufsgenossenschaft) in Germany, which states that Pains Wesse signals are approved for three years, and ISO standard 15736-2006 for manufacturers of approved SOLAS pyrotechnics recommends that, “The date of expiry shall be 36 months from the date of manufacture.” The vast majority of administrations worldwide stipulate a three year service life for pyrotechnics.

Mr Bradford adds, “If products are in service beyond their marked expiry date and then fail to operate to specification in an emergency, who is potentially liable for any legal actions that may ensue?”

“With ever increasing health and safety legislative liability, administrations and ship-owners / operators ignore ISO standards and manufacturers’ recommendations at their peril.

Pains Wessex Wants Consistent Flare Expiry Dates

“We want to achieve a consistency in the way that rules are applied so that whatever the life of a pyrotechnic is, the marked expiry date is adhered to. Ideally, we would like that to be three years, rather than the three-and-a-half or four years which still applies to some administrations at the moment.

“Once signals are four to five years old, depending on the product and service conditions experienced, it is most unlikely that signals will still conform to SOLAS standards.”

The IMO sub-committee for Design and Equipment (DE) that deals with safety products is currently debating this topic of replacing dated items in survival craft and liferafts, but only meets once a year, which means that the matter cannot be decided until mid-2009.

In the meantime, Chemring Marine, the parent company of Pains Wessex, is an active member of International Life-Saving Appliance Manufacturers’ Association (ILAMA) where this topic – amongst others – is regularly discussed by its technical committee.

ILAMA seeks to suggest improvements in safety standards, to comment on and influence proposed IMO legislation and enhance safety for seafarers.