Shipyard workers are exposed to various risks. This is the main reason why the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has numerous recommendations aimed at improving safety and reducing the risk of shipyard accidents.
Because various processes occur at a shipyard, the risk of injuries is high. Workers operate heavy equipment; they may suffer from exposure to toxic chemicals or fire. Slips and falls, accidents during welding work, bone fractures and more serious trauma are common.
Depending on the situation and the cause of an accident, a shipyard worker may have the grounds to file a maritime claim against their employer. Negligence and ignoring safety precautions can easily lead to the provision of compensation, as well as funds for medical assistance.
OSHA has a thorough shipyard industry standards guide, which doesn’t create legal obligations for employers but rather describes good practices. There are mandatory safety and health standards that employers are obliged to observe.
The guidelines recommend proper training for workers; they envision safe work practices in enclosed spaces, recommendations for hot and cold work, tips for safe working conditions maintenance, the installation of warning signs and labels, surface preparation, safe use of scaffolds and ladders, as well as proper maintenance of gear and equipment.
Shipyard workers are legally protected under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA). The aim of LHWCA is to provide financial compensation in the case of a shipyard accident that stems from employer negligence.
Under LHWCA, injured and disabled shipyard workers are entitled to compensation for medical costs, disability payments, vocational rehabilitation and even death benefits in the case of a fatal accident. In that case, the surviving relatives of the worker will have the right to sue an employer.
Shipyard Work Dangers
Shipyard workers are exposed to various hazards stemming from everyday activities.
Some of the most common dangers that shipyard workers will be exposed to include the following:
- Sprains, strains, and fractures
- Spinal cord and brain injuries
- Inhalation of fumes and toxic chemicals
- Fire hazards and risk of burns
- Chemical burns
- Radiant energy eye damage
- Injuries caused by falling objects or the operation of large equipment
- Hearing loss from intense noise levels
- Lead poisoning
- Drowning or fall-related injuries
- Respiratory damage
The risks are many because of the use of different supplies and the possible complications stemming from the completion of an array of processes. Workers will often have to deal with paint and solvents, abrasive blasting equipment (in the case of surface preparation, for example), scaffolding, ladders, electrical tools, flame torches, diving equipment (whenever in-water repairs have to occur) and work in confined spaces.
OSHA has equipment requirements and precautions created for every specific shipyard tasks. Following these recommendations can reduce the risk of accidents significantly.
Prominent Shipyard Accidents
Many workers have lost their lives, and others have become permanently injured in accidents.
In 1997, three shipbuilders were killed while working inside an aircraft carrier. Methane gas leaked inside the enclosed space where they were working. The bodies of the three workers were found 12 hours after the leak occurred. Air pumps had to be used for a prolonged period of time to ensure the safe access of the rescue team.
At the end of 2013, a worker was killed in a Norfolk accident. Workers were moving heavy equipment from a barge. One of them was hit with a heavy piece while completing the process at Lyons Shipyard. OSHA launched an immediate investigation to determine whether employer negligence of safety standards contributed to the fatal outcome.