Fall Accidents

A fall can occur onboard a vessel or while working anywhere near it. Falls represent one of the most common types of accidents among long shoring workers, along with vehicular accidents and incidents involving material handling. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, being stuck by trucks, forklifts, and front-end loaders were more common, followed by deaths resulting from falling and drowning.

Maritime Fall Causes

Vessels often have wet and/or slippery surfaces, caused by water or oily or other slick substances. Loose cargo and ropes; missing barriers, rails, or nets; improperly secured equipment; and poor lighting can lead to falls as well. An unmarked obstruction, loose ladder, and insufficient training are also issues that may trigger falls. One can easily sprain an ankle or wrist, but knee injuries, torn ligaments, and concussions are possible. Head, neck, and back injuries are common too. Workers have also suffered concussions, spinal cord, and traumatic brain injuries from falls, and even paralysis.

Reasons for Fall Accidents

A range of incident types are covered by OSHA. The administration has addressed incidents such as individuals falling into the water without a life vest on many occasions, falls on catwalks with no resources for medical treatment or rescue, falls onto decks from inadequate ladders, and lack of safe access from docks. Failing to maintain or clean surfaces and equipment can cause people to slip and trip, and there are many hazards in the maritime environment that can lead to a fall.

Falls also occur because:

  • Individuals lifting heavy equipment lose their footing.
  • Debris, objects, and tools are left on the deck or in tight workspaces.
  • Items, including elevated platforms, are not secured.
  • Workers are struggling to keep their footing in rough seas or heavy rains.

Possible Accident-Related Damages

If an employer or vessel owner does not provide the right training and doesn’t follow procedures, they may be liable to pay damages. The Jones Act, for example, covers a worker’s rights to medical care, lost wages, and maintenance and cure benefits that cover the costs of medical care until a physician determines the victim’s condition has improved as much as possible. Maritime law also calls for rehabilitation and therapy to be provided for, in addition to physical pain and suffering and mental/emotional anguish. Punitive damages may be addressed as well.

The U.S. Coast Guard listed falls into the water as the leading cause of fatalities among crew members, from 1994 to 2014. Over that time, it reported 72 deaths compared to the next highest, 21 due to asphyxiation. Although total annual fatalities due to maritime accidents went down over the final five years of the study, crew deaths due to falling overboard remained constant.

Whether protecting crew members or following safety regulations, vessel owners and operators have many factors to consider in preventing fall accidents. There are many hazards on ships. Proper surface and equipment maintenance, and training can help prevent some incidents. Employees also need to know their rights in case of an injury and potential liability on the part of their employer.

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