A lot of the work conducted in the maritime industry is hard labor, including working dockside or on a cargo vessel or oil rig. Not only are the natural conditions of working on, in and around the ocean with high winds and rough waters a contribution to the hazards that this type of work presents, but working with heavy and dangerous equipment also increases serious risk to bodily injury. Operating and working around people operating or handling cranes, winches, turbines, forklifts, pipe tongs, heavy cables, to name a few, can become chaotic and dangerous.
Equipment Accidents & Injury in Maritime Occupations
Maritime workers rely on their employers for safe working environments, and part of the process includes regular inspections worksites, vessels, etc., and maintenance of equipment used at and on all these sites. Employers also must also ensure that the people they hire are qualified and trained properly. Finally, employers must make sure that their employees are also following proper safety guidelines and procedures and are not overworking. By committing themselves to the fulfillment of these responsibilities, most accidents with equipment can be prevented.
As it is, the machinery used in maritime employment is heavy and complex, and as it is, many employers fail to take proper precautions when it comes to equipment and employees and accidents happen. Injuries that could be sustained from these types of accidents are often severe and include:
- Burns, mild to severe and life-threatening
- Broken bones
- Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) from mild to severe
- Back or spinal injuries
- Partial or Complete Paralysis
- Amputated limbs
- Crushed limbs
- Torn ligaments
- Illnesses associated with exposure to toxic fumes and/or chemical spills
Many of these injuries result in short- and/or long-term disability. Sometimes the injuries are irreversible and cause death. If you know someone who has been injured while working in the maritime industry, he or she may qualify for compensation under maritime law. A maritime personal injury lawyer should be contacted as soon as possible.
Equipment Accidents & Their Causes in Maritime Occupations
Specific equipment used in maritime employment activities include cranes, basket transfers, turbines, hoisting equipment, trawl winch, cables, oilfield specific equipment. The following subsections elaborate on these types of equipment and the nature of accidents associated with them.
Proper uses of cranes requires training, certain skills and experience. But even when cranes are used properly, other conditions happening around them can make it a dangerous combination. There are large shipping containers, drilling equipment, fishing nets, cables, and other possible equipment in the same vicinity of the crane(s). Cranes are used on ports, ocean-going vessels, sea terminals, and oil rigs. The types of cranes used vary significantly according to the line of work and if land-based or mounted on a container ship or freighter. Regardless the type, they still remain bulky, dangerous machinery that require their operators to be well trained, experienced and alert at all times.
Cranes are used to hoist cumbersome objects and transfer them to specific locations. The work is precise, and in order to get the job done right without incident, two conditions must be present: (1) skilled operator; and (2) well-maintained crane. The two main causes of accident with cranes are inherent in the latter two conditions: human error and improperly maintained equipment.
Operator errors can happen to the most experienced, but it's more likely to happen by the least experienced, unfocused workers. Mistakes can be made at any point of operation of the crane, but the more common examples include:
- Failure to inspect the crane for defects after long periods of use.
- Failure to maintain and repair crane defects regularly.
- Failure to set the crane's outriggers appropriately before the operator carries out a maneuver.
- Failure to ensure crane is not overloaded.
- Failure to ensure crane's cargo is balanced correctly.
- Failure to use a spotter or tag lines.
- Failure to communicate with other workers while loading and unloading cargo.
- Failure to maintain proper speed.
Improperly Maintained Cranes
Employers have a duty by law to regularly inspect, maintain and repair cranes. Cranes are bulky, complex machines that are used daily for long stretches of periods to lift and transfer bulky, heavy objects and containers. This constant use and maneuvering stresses the mechanical features of the machines and wears them down. Corrosion, metal fatigue, and other assaults on the machinery can reduce its structural cohesion. These conditions make them susceptible to mechanical problems. For instance, cranes have unexpectedly dropped loads. When this happens, serious injury and death can occur.
Personnel Baskets or Billy Pugh Baskets
These baskets are essentially pods used to transport personnel from one platform to another platform or vessel. These baskets are mostly used out at sea, and the conditions can make the transfer tricky and hazardous, especially because of the heights and the fact that personnel being transported are usually just holding onto the basket; they aren't actually inside of a basket but holding onto ropes that give the pod its basket-like appearance. The personnel basket is attached to a crane, and one or more workers hold on to the Billy Pugh basket's netting/roping. The crane operator lifts and swings the basket up and over the side of the initial vessel and then lowers its down onto the destination vessel. While up in the air, being swung by rope, a number of things can happen that can lead to workers being struck, crushed or knocked off.
Factors that contribute to personnel basket transport accidents include the following:
- Human error. Human error is a common thread in equipment accidents and causes of injuries. An un- or under-trained and inexperienced crane operator is more likely to lose control, drop the basket too quickly, or misdirect the basket. In any of the latter scenarios, personnel being transported can sustain impact injuries.
- Poor Sea Conditions. If the water is rough, safety rules mandate that basket transfers should not be done, but these safety rules are often ignored or neglected because management wants to get the job underway and/or completed. The high seas and its turbulent waters can cause a vessel to shift, and when that happens very challenging to transport workers from platform and vessel without causing harm.
- Weather conditions. As with poor sea conditions, basket transports should not be attempted if the weather is not conducive to a safe transport. When windy (most often) or rainy (less often) conditions become too intense, basket transfers are far more dangerous and the swinging can be exacerbated. Workers in a basket are more likely to fall, collide into another vessel, or suffer serious injuries if the crane sways.
- Defective mechanical components. Another thread in the overall causes of equipment accidents is the regular inspection and maintenance of equipment. If equipment involved in a basket transfer are not maintained, constructed, or manufactured properly, or if a defect exists, harm is more likely to materialize.
- Absence of safety coverage. Workers grip the net during the transport, and nothing surrounds them to protect them during the journey. If a worker does not hold tightly enough, then he or she may fall.
Cranes are a type of hoisting equipment, but there are other types of hoisting equipment used on various facilities in the maritime industry, but especially during the construction and operation of offshore wind farms and oil and gas operations. Construction workers, engineers, and maritime crewmen are always at serious risk of injury. Primary hazards that can cause accidents that lead to injuries or death and that are associated with hoisting equipment during the construction and operation of offshore facilities include:
- General human error
- Absence of proper safety gear
- Use of improper equipment for the work assignment
- Improperly trained workers
- Improperly inspected, maintained or repaired equipment
- Improperly bolted, tied, or secured equipment
- Improperly or unsecured loads that are to be hoisted
- Defective hoisting equipment provided by the employer, vessel owner or contractor
- Poor design working environment or facility
- Poor design of the hoisting equipment
- Signaling system malfunctioning or defective
- Poor sea and weather condition that create unsafe working conditions.
Twawl winches can weigh several tons and are used to release, change position of and reel in fishing nets and lines. Winches are used on commercial fishing boats that are present in the Chesapeake Bay. Fatal accidents are not uncommon when a worker manages to get entangled in the winch or is struck by a winch cable. Other causes of injuries include:
- Defective trawl winch can cause the equipment to fail during operation, and when that happens, the fisherman may be taken by surprise and is either inflicted with serious physical injuries or is knocked overboard.
- Crew members may not have been properly trained how to use the equipment properly and safely, and improper use of this equipment can maim or kill.
Commercial fishing vessels can be some of the most dangerous places for anyone to work. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the rates of fatal injury among fishers compared to workers generally in any field is outstanding. For instance, in 2009, the rate of fatal injury for fishers and related fishing workers was 203.6 per 100,000 workers compared with fatal injury to a worker in any occupation at 3.5 per 100,000; that's more than 50 times the fatal injury rate for fisherman versus other workers in the U.S.
Cables have a constant presence on ports and vessels, and they also remain a constant threat. Cables used on commercial fishing boats and other ships are made of heavy-gauge steel cables, and the mere weight and size can be an impediment to safety. Common causes of accidents with cables include:
- Cables that have not been properly inspected or maintained may fray or snap.
- Cables that are not properly bolted, tied or secured.
- Workers who have not been trained properly to handle cables or to use equipment to handle the cables.
The Role of Negligence & Equipment Operations
Not all cases of equipment-related accidents will be the consequence of human error or negligence. Human error, nonetheless, remains one of the biggest challenges that maritime workers face on a day to day basis: it's not necessarily the equipment that causes the accidents, but the people behind the equipment, e.g. manufacturers, inspectors, repairmen, employers and employees, among others.
The negligent operation of equipment may include any of the following scenarios:
- Impaired employees
- Lax adherence of or total disregard for safety regulations
- Inattention or distractions
- Inexperience working with the specific pieces of machinery or equipment
- Insufficient overall training
- Failure to use proper safety measures or wear safety gear
- Exhaustion or fatigue due to inadequate sleep or overworked
- Understaffed or insufficient manpower to carry out the jobs
- Risky or poor decision-making and pressure to get results.
Negligent actions on the part of the employer, employees, manufacturers, contractors, or anyone else involved in maritime employment can create conditions that allow equipment and equipment-related accidents to occur. These kinds of accidents are some of the more severe, life-threatening accidents that can occur in the maritime occupation. Failure to operate the machines properly, or failure to maintain machines properly, can lead to explosions fires, mechanical failures, electrocutions, chemical exposures, among many other dangerous scenarios. These incidents that result from negligence are almost always preventable, and someone or some organization must be held accountable.
Maryland Maritime Attorneys at Gilman & Bedigian
Equipment and equipment related accidents and the injuries sustained from those accidents are serious and life-threatening. Negligence is overwhelmingly a contributing factor in why and how these accidents occur. The unfortunate reality is that an injury sustained from maritime equipment accidents is likely an injury that may involve disability, if not long-term than in the short-term. These kinds of accidents also lead to a disproportionate rate of wrongful deaths. The pain you and loved ones are experiencing today should not be experienced alone and should not be compounded by the daunting and stressful task to determine how to go about filing a claim for compensation and with whom, what for and by when to file that claim (or lawsuit).
If you or someone you love has been involved with an equipment or equipment-related accident while working in the maritime industry, you may be eligible for compensation under maritime law. The law is complex, but trial lawyers at Gilman & Bedigian are experienced maritime personal injury trial lawyers and are committed to helping you receive just and fair compensation. Contact us online or call our law office at (800) 529-6162.