Shipyard Worker Accidents
Shipyards are where yachts, military vessels, cruise liners and cargo ships are built and repaired. Shipyards pose several potential hazards for workers. Workers performing rigging tasks, for example, use ropes and cables to secure a ship’s parts and sections for lifting by cranes, hoists and other equipment. Loads that are improperly rigged can expose workers to significant hazards including falls, electric shock, amputations and crushing injuries. Those who work at these sites face the risk of suffering serious or life-changing injuries as a result of safety and/or work procedure violations. It is important that steps are taken to make shipyards safe and that injured New York shipyard workers get the support and compensation they need.
Dangers of Shipyard Work
Working at a shipyard certainly presents an increased element of risk compared to many other assembly line or repair jobs. Shipyard workers have to deal with one or more of the following hazards on a fairly routine basis:
- Asbestos exposure: Being exposed to asbestos at a shipyard can result in mesothelioma, a fatal condition with no known cure. Many workers at New York shipyards are not informed when they are working near or with asbestos. Often, these workers are not provided with respiratory protection or even advised about wearing respiratory protection on the job.
- Fires and explosions: There are a number of combustible cleaning solvents used at shipyards including Methyl Ethyl Ketone and diesel fuel. Other hazardous materials found at shipyards include hydrogen gas generated during acid washes and dangerous cargo such as iron-ore and fertilizer.
- Slip and fall hazards: Oil, grease and debris can pose significant slip-and-fall or trip-and-fall risks.
- Falls: Shipyard workers are often at risk of falling from deck edges, open holes and deck openings. It is also common for New York shipyard workers to suffer serious injuries in falls from ladders and scaffolds.
- Respiratory hazards: When cleaning agents at shipyards are used in confined spaces, they have the potential to produce toxic vapors that can reduce the oxygen levels and create respiratory issues.
- Skin contact hazards: There are many toxic solvents, chemical removers and flammable liquids on shipyards that can cause great harm to eyes and skin.
- Temperature-related hazards: A significant amount of shipyard work is performed outside. Workers can suffer from heat stress, heat stroke and dehydration in the summertime. In the fall and winter, workers can suffer from hypothermia and frost bite.
- Excessive noise: Many of the tools and equipment used at shipyards produce very loud noises capable of causing hearing loss.
- Laceration injuries: Shipyard workers are at risk of amputation injuries whenever they use power tools such as high-pressure steam, saws, welding gear and cleaning equipment.
- Electrical hazards: Between the power tools, lighting parts and power cables, there are numerous electrical hazards that can lead to serious electrocution injuries.
- Lifting injuries: Shipyard workers who suffer injuries while lifting heavy cargo or equipment are eligible to seek compensation.
Shipbuilding and Asbestos
In years past, New York shipbuilders were frequently exposed to asbestos. Asbestos is a durable and fire resistant mineral that was frequently used in shipbuilding. Many workers were exposed to this dangerous mineral without respiratory protection. When asbestos is manipulated, fibers can become airborne and inhaled. Asbestos fibers can then become lodged in the lungs resulting in fatal cancers such as asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma. Many workers are not aware that they are developing mesothelioma until many years after they have retired from shipyard work. By then, their medical options are limited and their prognosis is often bleak.
Shipyard companies, managers and supervisors must take the steps necessary to prevent injury accidents. Here are a few steps they can take to keep workers safe on the job:
- Solvents and flammable materials must be immediately put away or disposed after use.
- Spills must be mopped up right away.
- Holes and openings in decks and ships should be clearly marked.
- Adequate ventilation must be provided when workers use dangerous chemicals.
- Air concentrations must be carefully monitored.
- Protective equipment must be provided for workers who use hazardous solvents and corrosive materials.
- Workers must be provided adequate shade and fluids when working in the heat.
- Hearing protection must be provided.
- High-pressure hoses must be inspected before use.
- Electrical tools must be grounded or double insulated.
- Those who are working at elevations should be provided with fall safety protection such as harnesses and safety nets.
- Workers should be provided with other safety equipment such as goggles, vests and hard hats.
Examples of Rigging Accidents in Shipyards
- Struck-by accidents: OSHA gives the example of a recent shipyard accident where workers were using a wheel-mounted crane to reposition two exhaust stacks that had been removed from a vessel. A crane operator who was moving the stacks slackened the line causing a 3-ton stack to fall over and strike a rigger. It killed him instantly. Such accidents could be prevented by understanding the sequence of rigging events as well as the balance point of loads and ensuring that the drop position is secure.
- Amputation injuries: OSHA gives the example of an incident where a worker was performing maintenance on a crane and was removing a damaged load drum weighing 3,500 pounds. The worker’s left thumb and a portion of his left index finger were caught and crushed between the pedestal bearing and another portion of the drum assembly. As a result, his left thumb was amputated. Such incidents can be prevented by completing a pre-work plan including a hazard assessment and evaluation of possible danger areas. Employers must ensure that pinch points are identified and items are secured.
- Crushing injuries: Another accident reported to OSHA involved the operator of an overhead crane who was using a chain sling attached to the hook of the crane. He was setting it up into a single choker hitch to pick up and turn over the steel frame that was lying horizontally on two sawhorses. Since the hook on the sling did not have a safety latch, the chain disconnected from the hook and the steel frame fell towards him. He was crushed between two steel frames.
Such accidents can be prevented by ensuring that workers do not place any part of their bodies into areas where they might become trapped when operating an overhead crane. Workers should also ensure that tools and equipment used are regularly inspected for defects and are replaced or repaired as needed. Workers who use cranes should be trained in rigging procedures. Daily inspections of cranes should be performed using safety checklists to ensure that the equipment is working properly.
Information and Resources for Injured Shipyard Workers
It is important for all workers, including those working in shipyards, to realize that they have a right to a safe workplace. State and federal laws require employers to provide their employees with working conditions that are free from known dangers. The U.S. Occupational and Health Administration’s regional office is located at 201 Varick St. Room 670, New York, NY 10014. Workers seeking information can call that office at 212-337-2378. If you are outside New York, visit OSHA’s web site at osha.gov or call 1-800-321-6742 for more information about the location of your regional office.
Workers may file a complaint to have OSHA inspect their workplace if they believe that their employer is not following safety standards or that there are serious hazards present. Employees can file a complaint with OSHA by calling 1-800-321-6742 or by printing the complaint form and mailing or faxing to their local OSHA area office. A complaint that is signed by an employee is more likely to result in an inspection. If you think your worksite is unsafe or if you have questions, do contact OSHA to report confidentially. OSHA’s web site lists information about workers’ rights and employer responsibilities.
Who Can File a Complaint?
Employees or their representatives have the right to request an inspection of a workplace if they believe there is a safety or health violation. A complaint can also be made if there is a situation that poses an “imminent danger” to employees. Employee representatives could be labor union representatives, an attorney acting for an employee or any other person acting in a bona fide representative capacity including, but not limited to, clergy members, social workers, spouses, government officials, family members, etc. In addition, anyone who has knowledge about workplace safety issues or health hazards may report the unsafe conditions to OSHA.
Employees or their representatives must provide sufficient information for OSHA to determine that a danger exists. Here is some of the information that must be provided for OSHA to launch an investigation:
- Number of workers at the site and number of employees exposed to the hazard.
- Manner of exposure and nature of work performed that is unsafe or unhealthy.
- Type of equipment that is used and condition of equipment at the worksite.
- Types of materials and/or chemicals that are used.
- Have employees received job and safety training?
- What types of processes or operations are involved?
- How often and for how long do employees work at the task that leads to their exposure?
- Length of time the dangerous condition has existed.
- Attempts that have been made by the employer to correct the issue.
- Injuries, deaths or illnesses that have occurred as a result of this problem including any near-miss incidents.
Federal Laws that Protect Shipyard Workers
There are several federal laws that may assist shipyard and other maritime workers who have been injured on the job. The Jones Act protects those who are employed in a shipyard or as crewmembers on commercial vessels such as boats, barges, tug boats, cruise ships, tour boats, ferries, fishing vessels, etc. This law helps injured shipyard workers seek compensation for damages including, but not limited to, medical expenses, lost wages and benefits, permanent injuries, past and future pain and suffering, etc.
The Longshore Harbor Worker Act is a federal law that protects those who work in shipyards and docks. Employers and owners have a responsibility to provide the necessary safety training and equipment to keep workers safe. When they fail to do so, injured workers or families of workers who are killed on the job may seek compensation under this federal law. In addition, the Death on the High Seas Act allows surviving family members or dependents to recover damages after a worker is killed on international waters.
If you have been injured in a shipyard accident, it is important that you report your injury to your supervisor right away. It is also crucial that you get prompt medical attention to maximize your chances of a speedy and complete recovery. Visiting a doctor creates a record of your injuries and the treatment you received. Make sure that you comply with your doctor’s orders in terms of follow-up visits and other treatment. It might also help to take photographs of the accident site including the equipment involved in your accident if any. Take photographs of your injuries as well. Document all damages and losses methodically. Taking these steps will help bolster your claim and increase your chances of getting fair and full compensation for your losses. Contact an experienced personal injury lawyer who will help protect your rights and look out for your best interests. If your claim gets denied, a knowledgeable lawyer will be able to file an appeal or explore other avenues of compensation.
Getting the Help You Need
If you or a loved one has been injured in a shipyard accident, the experienced New York personal injury attorneys at the Law Offices of Kenneth A. Wilhelm can help you better understand your legal rights and options. Please contact us TOLL FREE 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-800-WORK-4-YOU (1-800-967-5496). WE CAN EVEN COME TO YOU. There is no attorneys’ fee unless we recover money for you. We can also help with personal injury cases in New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, or Florida. If you have been seriously injured in any of the 50 U.S. states, please call us and we will try to help you with your case.
Other TOLL FREE phone numbers for us are:
1-800-RADIO-LAW, 1-888-WYPADEK, OR 1-800-LAS-LEYES
Please visit us at: www.WORK4YOULAW.com