Fires on board ships are often the most dangerous types of accidents. Although a ship is surrounded by water, a fire can trap men and women on board in confined spaces. Evacuating a burning ship can leave crew stranded in the middle of the ocean. Fires on ships can and too often are deadly. But for those who survive a fire there may be serious injuries, from smoke inhalation but also from burns.
A fire isn’t the only way someone may be burned on a ship, although it is the most common. Explosions can cause burns, as can electrical accidents and hot surfaces that a crew member accidentally touches. Welding tools used in the repair or building of ships can also cause burns. If you have been burned on the job in the maritime industry, get immediate medical attention but also make sure you know your rights and that you may be entitled to compensation.
Types and Severity of Burns
Burns are often classified by the cause of the injury. Fire or another source of heat, such as a boiler, may be the obvious cause, but there are other ways that a person can be burned. For instance, chemicals can cause burns, as can electricity, radiation, and sunlight. The most common causes of burns, though, are scalding burns from fire, steam and other hot gases, and hot liquids. Burns are also classified by severity:
- First-degree burns. First-degree burns are the mildest type of burns but can still be damaging. These burns damage the outer layer of skin only. Symptoms include red skin, swelling, and pain.
- Second-degree burns. This type of burn damages the outer layer of skin as well as the layer underneath it. Signs of a second-degree burn include red skin, splotchy skin, swelling, and pain. There may also be blisters.
- Third-degree burns. A third-degree burn is the most severe type. It damages the deepest layers of skin and can also damage tissue underneath the skin. Symptoms include charred blackness or white areas, waxy or leathery appearance in the skin, and sometimes numbness if nerves have been burned.
Burn First Aid and Ongoing Treatment
Even first-degree burns should be treated immediately. First aid measures for treating minor burns include cooling the area of skin by running it under cool but not cold water. Any clothing or jewelry near the burned area should be removed and blisters should be treated gently so as not to break them. A pain reliever is also a good idea to help make the burn victim more comfortable. For more serious burns, including second- and third-degree burns, a person needs immediate emergency medical attention. Until that can be administered the victim should be removed from further harm and the burned part or skin should be elevated and covered with a cool, moist cloth.
Medical treatment for burns that goes beyond first aid includes administering fluids, cooling the burn with mist, wound dressings, burn ointments, and antibiotics to combat infection. After the immediate treatment, patients with serious burns often need ongoing care. This may include breathing assistance if the burn is around the face or throat, tube feeding to provide adequate nutrition while the body heals, and surgeries such as skin grafts and cosmetic surgery.
Complications and Lasting Burn Damage
Burns can cause serious tissue damage, but beyond this immediate damage there are many complications that range from mild to life-threatening. Burns may cause serious infections, for instance. They can also cause significant loss of fluids, which may prevent the heart from pumping adequate blood to the rest of the body. Burns can also lead to hypothermia as the body loses heat, breathing problems from airway burns or smoke inhalation, and scarring.
A study of over 100 men and women who were burned on ships found that the most common complication was pulmonary edema, or a buildup of fluid in the lungs. Next most common was infection. Nearly nine percent of the patients died as a result of severe infection. The average time that the patients had to stay in the hospital after being burned was 44 days and the vast majority had to go through serious operations including tracheotomies and skin grafting.
Causes of Burns in Maritime Settings
There are many ways in which a worker may be burned in the maritime industry. In shipyards as ships are being build and repaired, welding equipment can be a source of burns. To prevent this source of burns, workers should be properly trained and apprenticed in welding. They should also have access to all the appropriate safety gear and training.
On ships, burns can be caused by fires which may start for a number of reasons: faulty electrical wiring, galley fires, fuel leaks, or equipment malfunction. Heat-generating equipment on a ship, such as a turbine, boiler, or engine, can also cause burns be releasing steam or if a worker touches or falls into it. The same potential causes are present in offshore maritime settings as well. Workers on ships may also be burned by hot liquids, radiation or chemicals stored as cargo, or by electrical equipment.
Negligence in a burn may exist if you can show that your employer did not provide you with a safe work environment. For example, if an area of the ship was not kept tidy and you tripped over something and fell onto the hot surface of a boiler, your employer may be negligent. Inadequate safety training, poor maintenance of equipment and electrical systems, and lack of safety gear could also be considered negligence.
What to Do if You Are Burned on the Job
If you suffer a burn on the job, the first thing you should do is get medical help. Call 911 if necessary to get emergency assistance, and in the meantime get first aid. The complications of a burn can be worse if it is not treated right away. When you have received emergency care and are able to, be sure to get an incident report created and filed with your company. This along with your medical treatment records will help you get compensation if you are entitled to it.
Burn injuries can require months of treatment and may cause lasting damage and disability. If you are a seaman and your employer is negligent in the accident that caused your burns, you may be able to use the Jones Act to seek compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, lost future earnings, and pain and suffering, including emotional suffering. Your spouse may be entitled to loss of consortium benefits if your injuries are severe. To make sure you get what you are owed, work with a maritime lawyer.