Maritime accidents are usually associated with disasters aboard ships due to adverse weather, rocky waters, and other dangerous conditions. However, the maritime industry encompasses a wide array of occupations and job sites, including ports and offshore maritime facilities. As a result, seamen and other maritime workers face many hazards both at sea and on land.
Seamen and other maritime workers work in an environment full of machinery, electronic equipment, engines, and other marine products essential to the operation of their vessels or workplaces.
All too often, however, many of these workers are injured as a result of on-the-job accidents caused by defective products. Maritime law recognizes claims involving flawed, poorly designed, or badly built products as valid, so long as the injury occurred on navigable waters. In addition, maritime law holds both the manufacturers of defective products and employers liable for a worker’s injuries.
Docks and piers are as essential to maritime work as ships and other vessels. Ports could not exist without docks and piers, which is where many of the important activities related to maritime work take place. Docks and piers are bustling with activity, and with so many vehicles, vessels, and people constantly on the move, they are among the most dangerous job sites in the world. As a result, many seamen and port workers are injured in job-related accidents, including:
- Crane and winch accidents
- Vehicular traffic accidents
- Fires and explosions
According to the federal agency that sets safety guidelines in the workplace, maritime jobs are among the most dangerous in the United States. Consequently, various laws and safety regulations exist to ensure that maritime workers receive proper training to do their jobs properly and as safely as possible.
Unfortunately, many maritime employers focus only on short-term, deadline-oriented goals and overlook the need to properly train their workers. As a result, longshore workers and seamen are seriously injured or even killed in workplace accidents caused by inept or poorly trained colleagues. Under general maritime law and other legislative acts, employers have a legal obligation to train maritime workers and to provide a safe working environment.
Vessels that sail on the seas and other navigable waters exist in a natural environment that is potentially dangerous even under ideal conditions. Seamen need to live and work, sometimes for months at a time, in vessels that are seaworthy. This means that ships, boats, or other watercraft must be well-built, in good condition, and safe. If a vessel is unseaworthy, accidents are likely to occur, needlessly injuring or killing members of the crew or leading to the loss of the vessel. Under admiralty law, a vessel’s owners are responsible for making sure that it is seaworthy and are usually liable for damages if it’s not.
Some of the most common injuries caused by unseaworthiness include:
- Broken bones caused by falls from defective ladders
- Burns from fires and explosions caused by leaky fuel pipes or worn-out engines
- Drownings or near-drownings caused by vessels that sank due to unrepaired hull damage
Maritime industry accidents are usually associated with disasters on the water, but the reality is that they occur in ports, harbors, and other shore facilities where ships and other vessels moor for loading, unloading, maintenance, and replenishment of fuel and provisions. This is because these workplaces are bustling with activity which involves large numbers of workers, heavy machinery, and vehicles of various types and sizes. The Jones Act, the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act and admiralty law protect the rights of maritime workers if they are hurt in job-related accidents caused by an employer’s negligence.
Some of the most common maritime-related accidents in shore job sites include:
- Slips and falls on slippery surfaces, including ships’ decks and gangways
- Conveyor belt accidents
- Crane accidents caused by improper use of equipment or lack of training
Seamen and other maritime workers live and work in an environment that is full of different hazards. One of the most common dangers is exposure to toxic chemicals and other harmful substances that cause serious injuries, diseases, and deaths among maritime workers. Gases such as hydrogen sulfide can build up in small and confined vessels if proper ventilation is absent.
In addition, ships built before the 1980s may contain asbestos fibers that are easily inhaled and trigger the onset of such life-threatening diseases as asbestosis and mesothelioma. Seamen and longshore workers can suffer respiratory damage if they come in contact with benzene, a naturally occurring chemical found in gasoline, diesel oil, and other petroleum products.
Offshore maritime jobs, including those on oil rigs and natural gas wells, form an important part of the American economy, particularly in the energy production and mineral resources sectors. Offshore facilities are among the most dangerous job sites in the world due to their location and the variables involved when people and complex machinery mix with a harsh and unforgiving environment. A single defective valve can set off a major disaster such as the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion that killed 11 workers and injured another 16.
In addition to catastrophic incidents such as the Deepwater Horizon accident, less newsworthy incidents occur on offshore facilities that result in injuries and deaths among maritime professionals. These accidents include:
- Falls overboard
- Slips, trips, and falls
- Exposure to extreme temperatures
Ships and other vessels can sink for any of a wide range of reasons. Most, however, are totally avoidable if owners and other responsible parties take all the steps necessary to keep vessels seaworthy and safe to operate with crew, cargo, and/or passengers aboard. However, there have been many instances when reckless captains or negligent owners have acted imprudently and ignored seaworthiness issues, skimped on maintenance and needed equipment upgrades, or gave improper orders.
The most common causes of preventable vessel sinkings include:
- Navigational and steering mistakes
- Failure to listen to warnings about severe weather or other hazards to navigation
- Fires and explosions
- Lack of watertight doors, holds, and covers
Additional Information Regarding Maritime Accidents
The maritime industry is an important cornerstone of the U.S. economy and provides tens of thousands of lucrative jobs aboard various types of vessels and in many shore and offshore facilities. However, these jobs are among the most dangerous on Earth due to the inherent hazards posed by the maritime environment as well as negligent employer behavior that places seamen at risk for life-threatening accidents and injuries. Although some injuries are a part of the occupation, employer negligence plays a large part in maritime accidents, in these cases, maritime workers have the legal option and right to file for damages against the responsible party.
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