Crew members and officers must always be attentive to safety while on board. The nature of the routine in a maritime environment increases the risk of accidents. These can be avoided, but working in an accident-prone area can lead to common types of incidents while working on a deck.
Slips and falls are among the most common accidents on deck because slippery surfaces are prevalent on ships. Missing gratings, railings, and warning signs often lead to problems. Workers may also use catwalks the wrong way or fail to have or properly use protective equipment, such as safety harnesses or shoes. A lack of awareness can lead to avoidable mistakes that can save one from the costly impacts of an injury. Accidents may occur on flat decks or involve falls related to hatch covers, cargo holds, and masts.
Slip and fall incidents can be avoided by keeping surfaces clean of oil and other slippery compounds, following designated passages, and wearing non-skid safety shoes. Hazard and risk analysis can help avoid problems as well.
Other causes of deck accidents include:
- Improper lifting: The right technique to lift an object is to squat down and lift with the leg and arm muscles, which helps avoid back injuries. Heavy objects, sharp edges, taking long steps while walking, and lack of a clear view ahead can cause trouble. Changing direction can be done with the feet instead of by twisting one’s body, and workers should bend their knees to lower the load onto a surface.
- Compressed air: Used for cleaning and with pneumatic power tools, it can enter the blood stream through a wound, potentially killing someone. Applying air to clear dust can damage clothing. Keeping air and gas cylinders vertical, clear of heat, and depressurizing pipeline and hoses transporting compressed air help avoid problems.
- Chemical exposure: Paints, paint thinners, metal bits, and other chemical-based substances can burn the skin, damage the eyes, and cause other injuries. Face masks and safety goggles must worn when working around chemicals, and eye wash stations should be readily available.
- Electrical hazards: Electric arcs, flashes, and fires can occur with overheated equipment. Live wires and poorly insulated machines and tools can cause dangerous shocks, so any frayed wire, damaged contact, or wire/lead exposed to heat or liquid should be addressed right away. Wires also present trip hazards if on floors or in the wrong places.
- Tools and machinery: Hydraulic and pneumatic power tools can easily cause a cut or burn, while drilling equipment is notoriously dangerous. Tools should be in working order and used only for the job they’re intended for. Their condition must be checked every time a tool is used, and the worker should always wear protective gear.
- Man over board: Deck accidents involving slip and falls can lead to an over board situation. This most often occurs when conducting washing, painting, or outboard or elevated work near a ship.
Maritime workers on deck are protected under the law. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has many regulations and standards related to maritime safety, while the Jones Act affords ship workers protection should they be injured. The circumstances of an accident can determine whether one is entitled to damages, especially if another party’s negligence is to blame.