Maritime work is naturally dangerous and the possibility of hurting your back on the job is very real. Whether you work on a commercial fishing vessel, on a cargo ship, or in a port, you do risky work every day. You could suffer an injury from being struck in the back by cargo or equipment, by falling, or from years of lifting heavy objects without adequate safety gear or break time.
Back injuries can be very serious, but even mild injuries can lead to chronic pain. Living with chronic pain can cause a number of other issues, from poor mobility to depression. If you were hurt on the job and now have back pain, you have rights and you may be entitled to compensation.
Types of Back Injuries
The back can be injured in a number of ways, with damage to and pain in the lower back being the most common. Injuries are typically caused by accidents but back injuries may also result from regular wear and tear or through repetitive motion damage. Pain is the most common symptoms of back injuries, but the damage can also seriously restrict movement. Some of the types of possible back injuries that a person may suffer include:
- Sprains and strains. An accident or heavy lifting and moving can cause sprains or strains in muscles and ligaments in the back, which results in acute pain. A sprain is overstretching, while a strain is a tear in muscle or ligament.
- Herniated, bulging, or ruptured disks. The disks of the spine are made of cartilage and provide cushioning between vertebrae. An accident or injury may cause a disk to bulge outward, or even rupture, which causes pain and may limit mobility.
- This condition occurs when a vertebra of the lower spine slips out of place and pinches a nerve, causing pain. It may be caused by a fracture in the spine.
- Fractured vertebrae. Accidents, falls, or strikes to the back can cause a fracture in one or more vertebra in the spine. This may cause other conditions, pain from pinched nerves, and decreased mobility. In very severe cases it may cause paralysis.
- Disk degeneration. The disks in the spine tend to wear down over time causing pain, but this process is often sped up by doing hard physical labor.
Symptoms and Complications
The most common symptom of any kind of back injury is pain. The pain can vary from mild to severe and by type. Some injuries may cause acute, sharp pains, while others trigger a deep muscle ache. Depending on the nerves effected by the injury, the pain may radiate outwards or even down the leg from the lower back. Also common is limited mobility, either caused by the pain or by the injury itself. Most cases of back pain are not serious, but if pain or mobility issues are caused by a fall or some kind of strike to the back, it should be treated immediately.
Pain is the most common result of a back injury, but pain itself can cause all kinds of complications. Some back injuries will lead to chronic pain that is difficult to manage. Chronic pain can limit mobility and therefore physical activity, causing a person to become partially disabled. It can also limit the ability to work and earn. Pain can even cause mental health issues, such as depression and substance abuse.
Treating Back Injuries
How back injuries are treated depends on the underlying issue or cause. Severe damage, such as a bad spinal fracture, may require surgery to insert bone cement or pins. Surgery may also be required to relieve the pressure on a nerve that is causing pain. Less severe damage or injuries, like a herniated disk, mild spondylolisthesis, or sprains and strains, may be treated with physical therapy and pain medications. These kinds of injuries require time and rest to heal.
Causes of Back Injuries in the Maritime Industry
Jobs in the maritime injury can be very dangerous and damage and injury to the back is not uncommon when accidents occur or just because of the physically demanding nature of the job. For example, lifting heavy cargo for many years loading and unloading ships can cause degeneration in the spinal disks with resulting pain and possible debilitation.
There is also the potential for a wide variety of accidents on ships and in ports and dock areas that can result in back injuries:
- Slipping and falling on a wet deck or dock.
- Being hit by a vehicle or forklift in a port.
- Being struck by moving cargo or a crane on a ship or dock.
- A moving piece of equipment.
- Assault by a coworker.
These kinds of accidents that may lead to back injuries can be caused by factors like inadequate training of workers, improper loading and securing of cargo, poorly maintained equipment that malfunctions, tensions among coworkers exacerbated by long hours and difficult working conditions, and cluttered decks with trip hazards just to name a few.
What to Do after a Workplace Back Injury
If you suffer an acute injury on the job, especially a direct strike to the back, the first thing you should do is seek immediate medical care. Back injuries should not be taken lightly, and not getting treated could lead to worse problems and symptoms in the future. Keep all records of the medical care you receive and make notes about what happened to cause the injury. Once you are able to, complete an accident report with the support of your supervisor.
Your accident report should be detailed and should include accounts from as many witnesses as possible. Submit it to your employer and do not sign anything until you have spoken to someone who can advocate on your behalf. Your employer may be liable for the accident and your injury and may try to get you to sign an agreement to wave that liability or to agree to an amount of compensation that is not enough to cover your medical and other expenses.
Your Legal Rights
There are several federal maritime laws that support your right as a worker in this dangerous injury. If you suffered a back injury and your employer has any degree of negligence in the accident, such as not maintaining equipment or training workers, you may be able to seek and get compensation. There are laws that cover you if you work as a mariner, if you work offshore, and if you work as a longshoreman. While the rights and rules are slightly different under each of these laws, each one provides you with the right to seek compensation that will cover medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other costs.
If you hurt your back on the job, contact a maritime lawyer to help you understand your specific rights. An experienced lawyer will know what steps you need to take next, will advocate on your behalf, and will be able to ensure you get everything that you are entitled to from an employer or insurance company.