Longshore and shipyard workers help keep America’s maritime industry running strong, but their jobs can be difficult and dangerous. In fact, according to OSHA’s statistics, the injury and accident rate of shipyard employees is more than twice that of construction and general industry workers.1
Longshore workers are on the job in every kind of weather, depending on when ships dock or depart, so they may work odd hours and are subjected to extreme weather for extended periods of time. They are at risk for injuries while moving or securing heavy loads or dangerous cargo, and operating large, heavy machinery.2
Workers in ship repair, shipbuilding, shipbreaking, and barge cleaning are exposed to a variety of hazards3 involving machinery and piping systems, ladders and scaffolds, and electrical circuits.4 They also may have to work around asbestos, lead, and other dangerous substances.5 A shipyard or longshore worker may require personal protective equipment, hearing or respiratory protection, or a personal flotation device to help reduce the risk of injury.6
If you are a longshore or shipyard worker, it’s critical to be aware of the potential on-the-job injuries you may face. If you are hurt on the job, there are immediate steps you must take to protect your rights and control your medical care.
Ship workers performing repairs or cleaning in confined or enclosed spaces are at risk for injury and illness.7 Fires, explosions, falls, and toxic air can cause injury or illness in confined areas. Workers in areas next to the confined spaces can also be affected. It’s important that the shipyard have a Shipyard Competent Person (SCP) who can evaluate these spaces and ensure that workers can enter, exit, and work inside safely.8
Employees in confined spaces who work alone face the additional risk of not getting prompt attention if injured. Supervisors must account for the safety of each employee throughout each work shift at regular intervals, either by sight, a camera, walkie-talkie or intercom, or a cell phone if reception is reliable.9
Shipyard falls may occur from ladders, scaffolds, or aerial lifts and are often serious or even fatal. Open deck edges, ladder wells, and unsecured hatches increase the risk of a worker being injured from a fall. Preventive measures include the use of personal fall protection equipment, and guardrails along deck openings or edges. Guardrails or other appropriate fall protection must be used when working on scaffolds 5 feet above surfaces.10
A number of dangerous substances are associated with shipyard work, including asbestos, lead, cadmium, arsenic, benzene, and formaldehyde. Workers might also be exposed to health hazards from PCBs, coal tar pitch, silica, and mercury. Anti-fouling paints, pesticides, and fumigants pose additional risks. Employers must post warnings and limit workers’ exposure to these compounds by law.5
Ships’ radar and communications systems produce electromagnetic waves that can cause skin or organ damage. These systems can also cause electric shocks if a worker touches a metal crane, derrick cable, or antenna that has become energized. In addition, rotating radar systems can accidentally strike workers, resulting in falls or amputations. Vessel communication systems must be secured so they cannot energize or emit radiation when employees work on or near them.11
Hot work includes welding, cutting, burning, abrasive blasting, and other heat-producing activities, and common injuries resulting from it include eye injuries, burns, shocks, and repetitive trauma. Hot work spaces must be prepared properly for entry and work, including lighting, ventilation, and access. A Certified Marine Chemist (CMC) must test for flammable or toxic atmospheres and residues.12
Longshore workers, who load and unload freight from cargo ships using heavy machinery and manual labor, are subject to materials-moving accidents such as slip and fall injuries, vehicle accidents, extreme weather exposure, exposure to hazardous cargo, and repetitive stress injuries to the shoulder, knee, and back. Workers may need protective gloves, hardhats, safety-toe boots, or respirators.2, 13
If you are a longshore, harbor, or shipyard worker, or have another job that involves working on docks or in marine terminals, you may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits under the federal Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act (LHWCA).14 The LHWCA provides compensation to workers employed in maritime industries who have been injured on the job, and generally has a higher maximum rate for benefits provided than standard workers’ compensation. Civilian working outside the U.S. on American military bases or under a U.S. government contract can receive similar benefits under the Defense Base Act (DBA), which operates similarly to LHWCA. 15
In some cases workers can choose between state workers’ compensation and LWHCA or DBA. The state programs may offer a higher benefits rate than the LWHCA or DBA, but not always; a knowledgeable maritime accident attorney can advise you on whether you are eligible for a LHWCA/DBA claim.
In addition to workers’ compensation benefits, the LHWCA and DBA provide for instances of permanent impairment; if you are a longshore, harbor, or shipyard worker who suffered from hearing loss, paralysis of a limb, or other form of untreatable impairment, the LHWCA and DBA have provisions that would compensate you for the disability.
If you are hurt at work, report your injury to your employer immediately – even if it seems minor. Click here for more details on how to report a work injury.
When you are injured or become ill on the job, you are entitled to appropriate workers’ compensation. It’s important to get in touch with a maritime injury lawyer right away. An experienced attorney can protect your rights and get you the benefits you deserve.
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