Seamen take on a high risk of injury compared to workers in many other industries. Hazards specific to the job create certain common types of accidents among maritime workers. There are always opportunities, however, to improve safety for the crew.
How to Prevent Common Maritime Injuries
Burns, Chemical and Electrical Injuries
Seamen working in the engine room and galley are at particular risk for burns caused by scalding, explosions, or flames.
- Protective equipment and clear labeling can help reduce accidents.
Electrical injuries typically occur with power generation and use. The injuries can look like superficial or deep and invisible burns that occur along the course taken by the current, especially at high voltages (>1000 volts). The invisible burn can lead to tissue necrosis and myoglobin breakdown with risks of kidney damage. Mains voltage alternating current can induce cardiac dysrhythmias and cardiovascular and ECG monitoring is advised where possible.
- Work practices that ensure isolation of equipment before covers or insulation is removed are a must.
Risks in Port / Manual Handling Tasks
The risks of slipping, tripping, falling and being struck by objects are high when crew is handling cargo, as discussed in part 1. Certain types of cargo handling are known to be particularly dangerous such as securing containers. Workers must manually move warps and springs when mooring and loading food, for example, that is not handled by the main cargo handling equipment. There is also risk of long-term strain or acute musculoskeletal injury from moving hatch covers and other lifting/moving tasks.
- Workers should be trained to pay attention to total weights and given expectations of how items should be moved, lifted, and handled in order to protect their back and knees.
Hawsers and Winches
A seaman can expect to work with ropes, cable and hawsers; whether he works a merchant or fisherman. Particular risks include the parting of a steel hawser. If the broken end moves around with high velocity, un-spinning as it moves, major injuries can occur to anyone in its path.
- A rule that prohibits crew in areas where hawsers are under tension whenever they are inessential to the activity, such as on tug towing decks, can reduce the risk of injury.
As cables are winched in or out there will be pinch points between the winch or capstan and the coiled cable; these points are often close to the locations where a crewmember is located. Part of the crew’s task is ensuring that the cable coils correctly, which creates a temptation of intervening by hand if something goes awry. These types of scenarios are particularly common with the repetitive hauling tasks in fishing, compounded by a tired crew working on a slippery and crowded deck.
- The guarding of in-running nips and providing emergency stop buttons or wires where they can be reached, even during the course of entrapment, are important safety steps.
Fishing Injuries and Poisonings
Fishermen take on an additional set of risks. Hand injuries are common from use of fishing gear, marine debris, and gutting knives. Fish hooks and sea creatures with defensive spines can cause penetrating injuries and may require the use of cutters for removal. Some species inject venom which can lead to local or generalized toxic reactions.
Fishermen also have wet hands for extended periods of time which increases the risk of infection; with the compounded problem of the presence of unusual or sea-specific pathogens.
Standing in awkward postures to perform tasks and maintain stability on small fishing vessels can lead to acute or long-term musculo-skeletal injury.
- Best practices for working positions and use of hooks need to be established and respected by the crew. The type of fishing and the size of the vessel may affect specific rules.
These common maritime injuries happen to seamen on land and at sea. Additional risks for long-term injuries are taken by those on board vessels because there may be limited access to care while out at sea. Preventative actions, therefore, become even more important.
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