Maritime welding, also known as hyperbaric welding, can be one of the most lucrative occupations that do not require a college degree. However, underwater welding accidents are a frequent occurrence on oil platforms, ships, and underwater construction sites due to the dangers of maritime welding.
According to research by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), welder-divers die at 40 times the rate of average Americans. Moreover, drowning and decompression sickness were the leading cause of fatalities, with electrocutions, explosions, and crush injuries causing many offshore accidents as well. With proper training and sound safety protocols, these risks can be mitigated.
What is Maritime Welding?
Welding is a diverse profession that is employed by numerous industries. Simply put, this craft entails using heat to fuse metals or thermoplastics together. While marine welding can also refer to the work done by a professional welder-driver on offshore oil rigs, it typically refers to a task necessary for the construction of both boats and ships as well as for the repair of their metal structures and parts, oftentimes undersea. Therefore, maritime welders are always in the thick of the action, whether it is on an offshore rig, inland placement, or deep under the sea on an ocean liner.
Underwater, or deep-sea welding, is performed by commercial divers. Commercial diving is seen as one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. These divers are employed to repair oil rigs, ocean liners, or ship salvage operations. Due to the hazards that can occur from not immediately repairing an ocean vessel, welders are sent down regardless of the sea’s conditions.
What are the Risks of Maritime Welding?
To be successful in the profession, maritime welders must be disciplined and aware of their surroundings. They also need to work for employers who don’t cut corners on safety. Every day, maritime workers risk severe injury or death from:
- Drowning – Maritime welders usually work in or around water. In such environments, drowning is always a risk. This risk is multiplied when welders work with heavy equipment in murky waters with low visibility and strong currents. Factors such as overwork, distractions, disorientation, and equipment failure can all cause underwater welders to drown.
- Decompression sickness – When welders work in deep water, one of their biggest enemies is decompression sickness or the bends. The bends happen when divers come back to the surface too quickly. Gases in the bloodstream escape into surrounding tissue, causing a host of uncomfortable symptoms and medical complications. In severe cases, decompression sickness can cause maritime welding death.
- Electrical Shock – Water is highly conductive of electricity. Waves and currents can cause divers to lose balance or their equipment to shift, which can result in loosened grounding cables and short circuits. In some cases, electric equipment simply breaks.
- Explosions – Maritime welding produces oxygen and hydrogen gases that can cause explosions if allowed to accumulate. Divers and their backup crews need to be aware of areas where gas collects to avoid deadly deep sea explosions.
- Crush injuries – Maritime welders work on and around heavy machinery and massive structures such as oil platforms. Crush injuries are a common danger to all maritime professionals, but divers and welders face higher risks.
Deep Sea Welding Deaths and Injuries
Every day, underwater welders run a number of risks. Along with a high level of skill, the work necessitates unyielding nerves, focus, and unending concentration. The dangers of maritime welding can lead to untimely deaths and catastrophic injuries. In addition to equipment failures and accidents, deep sea welders also face severe environmental risks.
According to a research study, adverse water conditions contributed to 36 percent of underwater welding deaths. Malfunctioning equipment can often cause underwater electrocution. Electrocution is still a large threat to the profession, but if offshore employers follow the applicable safety precautions and guidelines, these maritime injuries and deaths can be prevented.
Most maritime welding accidents occur from pressure changes and equipment malfunctions. Seven percent of all documented underwater welding mishaps are caused by differential pressure. This rate, therefore, places this risk at the top of the list. When water goes from a high-pressure to a low-pressure environment, Delta P is typical. Welders opening valves, cutting into tight spaces, or turning on pumps might result in these dangerous offshore accidents.
Deep Sea Welding Standards
According to OSHA’s historical data, 6 to 13 diving-related fatalities occur year on average. Those that work as deep sea welders were included in this statistic because they are divers as well as welders. Despite these underwater fatalities, OSHA’s regulations for commercial diving have not been substantially revised since the 1970s. Thus, it is unfortunate that there are no current figures on the number of underwater welding incidents that take place in the United States each year. Because diving regulations haven’t been updated despite significant changes to diving methods, welding equipment, and even diving itself over the past few decades, underwater welders are at an increased risk.
The American Welding Society’s AWS D3.6M:2010 “Specification for underwater welding” is the most widely used standard that applies to underwater welding. The standards for welding components or structures below the water’s surface are covered and it contemplates both dry and wet environment welding.
There are more standards in place regarding the structures than there are to keep the divers safe. The standards for welding components and structures receive an update periodically, whereas the instructions for the safety of welders have not been updated since the 1990s.
Deep Sea Welding in the News
As stated previously, most welding deaths are due to environmental risks and drowning. In recent news, a student diver was undergoing underwater welding training and died in the Trout River in Jacksonville, Florida. The man had “unidentified complications” during his advanced low-visibility training session, reportedly stating that his helmet was filling with water, which may have been due to equipment failure.
In another recent incident, three bodies were recovered after a welding accident on the Trinidad and Tobago pipeline. The workers were reportedly “sucked into an underwater 30-inch (76cm) U-shaped pipeline.” There were five men working on a maintenance project on the line, and one of the men was rescued, three bodies were found, and one is still missing.
These two examples this year display the dangers of maritime welding and how the conditions and equipment play a large role in the deaths and injuries of these underwater welders.
How a Houston Offshore Injury Attorney Can Help
A severe maritime welding accident may cause pain, suffering, and significant medical expenses. It can also result in years, and in some cases, a lifetime of lost income for you and your family. The path to compensation is not always clear for maritime welders. Depending on the circumstances of your employment, you might seek compensation under a variety of laws, such as the Jones Act, the Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act, and others. At The Krist Law Firm, P.C., our award-winning maritime injury lawyers can help you on your path to financial recovery with a free, no-obligation consultation.