How to Prevent Common Maritime Injuries
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.
Common Maritime Injuries and How to Prevent Them
Slips, Trips and Falls
The surfaces on a vessel are often wet, slippery, uneven and cluttered; they are also often moving. These risk factors increase the risk of a slip, trip, or fall accident, commonly leading to a fall to deck level. Severe injuries are more likely to occur from a fall that happens at an unguarded edge such as an open hold, the side of the vessel, or at the top of the companion way.
- Keep walkways free of extra debris and clutter
- Add traction and hand-holds in slippery areas
- Supply safety harnesses
- Require crew to wear sturdy footwear with good ankle control and a rubber sole
Falling or being Swept Overboard
When a seaman falls off a vessel between a ship and a quayside carry or is swept into the sea, there is a strong risk for hypothermia, drowning, or crushing. Rescues can be difficult and are often carried out by other crew members.
- Crew should wear a life jacket or buoyancy suit at all times while on deck
- A rescue procedure must be in place with each crew member up to speed on the plan
Falling and Swinging Objects
A ship has multiple layers; activities on upper decks, masts or derricks can potentially cause problems for seamen working on the decks below. Tools falling, lifting tackle swinging, and cargo being lifted and moved are all common risks for a falling or swinging accident.
- Create a work practice that doesn’t allow crew to be beneath working or lifting operations.
- Require crew to wear hard hats when working with cargo
Working in Enclosed Spaces
There are many enclosed spaces on a vessel that can pose risks to seamen because of their lack of access and ventilation. Fuel stores, cargo areas, chain lockers and access routes used to inspect ship extremities of the hull are all examples of enclosed spaces that may contain combustible or explosive atmospheres, deficient in oxygen or contaminated with toxic gasses. Risks include fire, explosion, asphyxiation and poisoning.
- A detailed work practice must be in place:
- A tally system for entry
- A supervisor standing outside of enclosed space who is maintaining contact with the worker inside
- Personal alarm systems
- Gas checking for flammability and the presence of oxygen and toxic substances should be required
- Workers should wear protective equipment including breathing apparatus’
- Where there are known flammable or explosive risks, all lighting and tools used must be certified as flameproof and non-sparking
Acute Chemical Incidents: Eyes, Skin, Inhalation
Many chemical substances are used on vessels including scale removers, cleansing agents, and solvents. These chemicals can cause acute injuries to the eyes and skin but also by inhalation (gassing).
- The risks by all chemicals used on board should be known to employees and documented for easy referral
- Protective equipment must be provided to employees and worn at all times. Goggles may be provided, for example, if a chemical runs the risk of damaging the eyes.
- Do not let workers with asthma work with irritants that could cause an asthma attack if inhaled
- Do not let workers with limited vision or blindness in one eye risk working with a chemical that could cause a corneal burn
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.
Contact a maritime injury attorney
If you or a loved one was injured due to the reckless/negligent behavior of another seaman or maritime employer, you have enough to deal with. Let an experienced maritime injury attorney fight for justice on your behalf. It is not uncommon to receive a settlement from the insurance company that is five to ten times larger with the help of a maritime accident lawyer. Call the most experienced practicing maritime accident attorneys Bellingham has at Tario & Associates, P.S. today for a FREE consultation! We have been representing grieving family members in Whatcom County, Skagit County, Island County and Snohomish County since 1979. You will pay nothing up front and no attorney fees at all unless we recover damages for you!