Fires on board ships are often the most dangerous type of accident. Although a ship is surrounded by water, a fire can trap men and women in confined spaces and cause serious 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
The cause of the injury often classifies burns. The most common causes are scalding burns from fire, steam, other hot gases, and hot liquids.
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Fire or another heat source, such as a boiler, may be the apparent cause, but there are other ways that a person can be burned. For instance, chemicals can cause burns, as can electricity, radiation, and sunlight.
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 the 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 tissue underneath the skin. Symptoms include charred blackness or white areas, a waxy or leathery appearance in the skin, and sometimes numbness if nerves have been burned.
First Aid and Treatment for Burns
Even first-degree burns should be treated immediately. First aid measures for treating minor burns include cooling the area of the 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.
A person needs immediate emergency medical attention for more severe burns, including second and third-degree burns. The victim should be removed from further harm until that can be administered, and the burned part or skin should be elevated and covered with a cool, moist cloth.
Medical treatment for burns beyond first aid includes:
- Administering fluids
- Cooling the burn with mist
- Wound dressings
- Burn ointments
- Antibiotics to combat infection
After 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 severe tissue damage, but beyond this immediate damage, many burn complications range from mild to life-threatening:
- Burns may cause serious infections.
- 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.
- Airway burns and smoke inhalation can cause breathing problems.
A study of over 100 men and women who were burned on ships found that the most common complication was pulmonary edema or fluid buildup in the lungs.
The next most common was an infection. Nearly nine percent of the patients died as a result of severe infection.
The average time 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.
What Causes Burns in Maritime Settings?
There are many ways in which a worker may be burned in the maritime industry:
- Welding equipment can be a source of burns in shipyards as ships are being built. Workers should be adequately trained and apprenticed in welding to prevent this source of burns. They should also have access to all the appropriate safety gear and training.
- On ships, burns can be caused by fires that may start for several 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 by releasing steam or if a worker touches or falls into it.
- Ship workers may also be burned by hot liquids, radiation, or chemicals stored as cargo or by electrical equipment. The same potential causes are present in offshore maritime settings as well.
Negligence in Maritime Burn Injuries
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.
After 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. You may be able to use the Jones Act to seek compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, lost future earnings, and pain and suffering. Your spouse may be entitled to loss of consortium benefits if your injuries are severe.
Work with a maritime lawyer to determine all of your legal options. You might have multiple ways to seek compensation. An experienced lawyer gives you the best chance of getting the compensation you need to cope with a serious injury.