Shipping is a big part of the maritime industry. Many people work on or around container ships, loading and unloading cargo, often using large cranes to do so. Even with other kinds of ships, loading and unloading is a part of the regular routine, and cranes are utilized for ships of all types and sizes to efficiently and quickly move cargo and supplies.
All types of maritime jobs are dangerous, but working with cargo and using crane machinery can be particularly fraught with risks. Operator errors, mechanical failures, poor training, and lack of safety equipment and training can all contribute to accidents while cargo is loaded or unloaded. If you work in this role either on the ship or on the dock, you put yourself at risk of injury every day. You have rights under maritime law to recover damages if you are injured, and your loved ones have rights in the tragic event that you are killed in a work accident.
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Dangers of Cargo Loading and Unloading
Container and cargo shipping is a huge industry and requires a lot of workers to load and unload cargo from ships of all sizes. In container shipping, this means using huge cranes to hoist railroad containers onto and off of large ships. Smaller cranes may be utilized in ports with smaller cargo containers. Some cargo loading and unloading is done by hand, with workers carrying loads on and off boats.
Regardless of the size of the operation or the equipment used, there are inherent risks for this kind of work, largely done by longshoremen and harbor workers. For those workers moving cargo by hand, without the aid of equipment, the injury risks include repetitive motion injuries, joint damage, back and neck injuries, and broken bones, cuts, or scrapes, from falling while carrying cargo.
When cranes are used for cargo the injuries can be much more severe. Dropped loads represent a serious hazard that can cause injuries and fatalities. Other risks include getting hit by moving cranes or vehicles moving in the crowded space of the shipping port. Longshore workers are also at risk of falling into the water and possibly drowning.
Causes of Accidents
One of the main causes of accidents involving cranes for loading and unloading shipping cargo is operator error. The worker operating a crane in this industry must be highly-skilled and trained to use the machinery safely and effectively. If a worker has not been adequately trained, he or she may make a mistake and cause an accident. A worker who is fatigued may also cause accidents by making an error of judgment or even falling asleep on the job. Operator error can also come from poor communication. Crane operators must be in radio contact with other workers to make loading and unloading go smoothly and safely.
Mechanical errors are another important source of cargo and crane accidents. A crane that malfunctions, due to no error on the part of the operator, can easily drop a load or swing out of control and hurt someone. A machine may malfunction because it has not been properly maintained or has not been repaired when it should have. If any part of the equipment isn’t working right, the whole machine becomes dangerous to everyone around it.
Accidents with cargo that does not involve a crane may happen because the cargo is improperly stowed aboard a ship. Shifting cargo can come loose and hurt someone, for instance. Workers carrying and lifting cargo may have accidents if they are not wearing appropriate safety gear or have not been trained to lift and carry safely. Cargo that contains hazardous materials, like toxic chemicals, may also cause exposure accidents if not stored correctly.
Examples of Accidents and Injuries
There are too many examples of workers in the shipping industry getting hurt or even killed because of cranes or cargo. In an example of poor safety training, a turbo generator was being lifted by crane to a barge when part of it fell and struck a worker. The piece weighed 75 pounds and he was unable to escape the incident with injuries only; the accident was fatal. The error came in safety procedures. The workers were removing nut-and-bolt assemblies from the generator when it was suspended over them. They should have known that doing so was unsafe. There was also a lack of communication that contributed to the accident. The workers thought that the assemblies were connected to the generator and didn’t realize they would fall when removed.
Another incident describes how worker error can lead to an accident. Longshore workers were unloading aluminum bars from a ship using a crane. The workers were not experienced in using the particular lifting system and didn’t secure the load well enough. As the person operating the crane that lifted and moved the bars swung the load out toward the pier, one of the bars fell. It weighed 1,300 pounds, struck a worker on the ground and killed him. Not only were the workers moving the bars not trained with the equipment they were using, it was not the preferred method for moving the cargo from the ship.
Yet another tragic longshoreman fatality occurred in a busy, high-traffic port when a truck struck the worker. The worker had tripped and fell into the path of the truck. He may have tripped because of a surface that was inappropriately cluttered with items, or it could have been a true accident. There were no witnesses to the fall, but the incident illustrates just how hazardous the environment of a port for loading and unloading cargo can be. The crowded area of a harbor or port is full of risks and dangers and this example illustrates just how cautious workers need to be.
In another cargo-loading incident, workers were loading 2,000-pound rolls of paper pulp onto a cargo ship. A worker loading this cargo used a truck to transport the rolls from a warehouse to the ship where a crane would lift them onto the ship. One roll in his load was damaged and he stopped the truck to fix it. With the rolls lifted up in the air, but not properly secured, he and other workers made repairs to the underside of one of the rolls. Another roll fell from the truck, struck the driver, and killed him. With proper loading and transporting procedures, this tragic accident could have been avoided. The workers had been using equipment that was not correct for securing the rolls to the truck.
Maritime Worker’s Rights
If you work as a longshoreman in a port or as a seaman aboard a ship carrying cargo, you do a dangerous job. Any number of errors or missed opportunities for safety precautions could lead to an accident that causes injury or death. You have rights to compensation if you are injured on the job, thanks to maritime laws. You can get money to cover your medical expenses, to pay the wages you lost from not being able to work, and possibly even extra money for pain and suffering, depending on your situation and whether negligence can be proven to have been involved.
Your loved ones also have rights to compensation if you are killed doing this dangerous work. Either you or your loved ones may find it difficult to navigate maritime laws and to fight for your rights. You can rely on the expertise of a maritime lawyer to guide you through the claims process and to represent you as you try to get the money you are owed.