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Legal Blog

Top Causes of Maritime Accidents

The world has grown increasingly dependent on maritime operations and its ability to transport goods globally around the clock. Making this system work requires long hours by workers in an industry where accidents often go unreported and working conditions do not comply with safety standards. Contributing to this system is a maze of law that often becomes hazy, at best, as ships travel through international waters, making it unclear who is responsible should an offshore accident happen.

The Port of Houston has become a significant component of the maritime industry, posting record shipping numbers in recent years. These statistics have nearly doubled in just over five years, reinforcing the need for a nonstop work environment. With industry growth comes the increased risk of accidents and injuries on the job.

Accidents can occur at any point in maritime industry operations. Staying aware and protecting yourself is critical to thriving in this fast-paced environment. Becoming familiar with the top causes of maritime accidents can work in your favor and keep you more alert to safety concerns.

Common Maritime Accidents

Slips and Falls

Slips and falls can occur anywhere, but working on wet surfaces constantly in motion can increase your rate of slip and fall injuries. Slip and fall accidents rank only behind motor vehicle accidents as a leading cause of death in the U.S.  

Working in the maritime industry increases the possibility of these incidents. How and why do slip and fall accidents occur offshore?

  • Slippery, uneven decks coated with water, oils, and other materials
  • Lack of guardrails and safety barriers
  • Hoses and service lines cluttering decks
  • Missing grates and planks on ships’ decks 
  • Improperly secured equipment
  • Lack of non-skid surfacing
  • Improper lighting
  • Improper safety training and planning

Toxic Chemical Exposure

Maritime workers have an increased risk of chemical exposure. These threats are presented not only by normal ship operations but by the cargo they transport. Because many chemicals are odorless, a worker will often not realize the presented dangers until it is too late, resulting in fatal injuries.

Working in poorly vented areas creates extreme safety hazards. Harm to employees by inhalation of toxic chemicals is a result of poor ventilation. The lack of training or use of personal protective equipment contributes to these injuries.

Common toxic exposure causes include:

  • Asbestos: Before the known dangers of asbestos, this naturally occurring mineral was used in ship construction. Working on vessels constructed before the 1980s exposes mariners to asbestos, increasing diseases such as mesothelioma and asbestosis.
  • Benzene: Maritime vessels transporting crude oil carry the risk of benzene exposure; this exposure is linked to bone marrow diseases, anemia, leukemia, and other cancers.
  • Hydrogen sulfide: Transporting organic materials, such as fish in the fishing industry, requires storage procedures that prevent the decomposition of the material. Without proper storage, the materials break down and create hydrogen sulfide gas, rendering maritime workers unconscious without adequate ventilation. Exposure for extended periods can lead to death.
  • HAZMAT materials: There are numerous hazardous materials, such as aerosol sprays, bleaches, ammunition, alcohols, transported on waterways. Improper storage and labeling of these materials increases the probability of toxic exposure, specifically if damage occurs during transportation.

Toxic chemicals can have a profound effect on the skin and eyes. Unless treated properly, blindness and severe burns can result. The lack of eye wash and first aid stations contributes to maritime injuries.

The buildup of toxic chemicals and fumes in unventilated spaces can also lead to fires and explosions, compounding the dangers when chemicals are stored and transported improperly.

Improper Material Handling

A vessel in constant motion can change direction at any time, sometimes simultaneously, by pitching, heaving, yawing, swaying, rolling, or surging. These motions lead to constant dangers when handling materials, including:

  • Loss of fingers and limbs: Containers of material weighing thousands of pounds can easily amputate fingers and limbs. The shifting of improperly secured cargo is a leading cause of loss.
  • Head injuries: Without proper safety equipment, severe head injuries increase as the maritime work environment is subject to shifting cargo, large containers being loaded and unloaded by crane, and the possibility of being struck by falling debris.
  • Broken and shattered bones: The human body is no match for the weight of materials transported on ships and vessels.
  • Muscle and nerve damage: Muscles and nerves run throughout the body. It can often take years to get over this type of damage. Sometimes, it never goes away, even after being addressed with surgery.

Lack of proper training

Professionals need to receive proper training in their field of work. Supply demand, high turnover rates, and the vast skill set required to operate a vessel can often lead to undertraining. Lack of training leads to preventable human errors, including:

  • Poor training on operating systems: Every ship runs by complicated systems that require technical knowledge. Training employees on these systems is imperative for smooth operation and maintenance. Accidents are a typical result of improper systems training and maintenance.
  • Inadequate safety training: Safety training begins with observational awareness. Without knowledge of all the dangers a workplace presents, it is impossible to be prepared for potential threats and execute prevention. Industry standards are in place to protect offshore workers from maritime injuries.
  • Improper machinery training: Many types of machinery are used on and around shipping vessels. Cranes, bobcats, and other mechanized equipment are utilized to load and unload cargo. Working with this equipment can create a hazard for the operator and the individuals working around it.

Repetitive Motion

The type of work performed on maritime vessels often results in repetitive motion performed for extended periods without adequate breaks and training in how to complete the task safely. Overexertion, straining, and continuously repeating an action can lead to repetitive motion disorder, resulting in the inability to perform a task. This disorder typically occurs in:

  • Hands
  • Wrists
  • Elbows
  • Shoulders

Understanding The Law As Applied To Maritime Accidents

Laws that apply to maritime accidents vastly differ from most laws applying to other types of accidents. Maritime law is a specific body of laws that govern maritime operations and nautical businesses at the federal level.

Navigating injuries and the possible loss of work creates stressful challenges. The experienced and award-winning trial lawyers of The Krist Law Firm, PC know how maritime laws apply to your case, so we will best be able to maximize your claim to get you the financial compensation you need and deserve. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation with a Houston maritime injury lawyer.