If you work on board a ship that carries chemicals, you may be at risk for exposure to those that could harm you. Ships that carry chemicals are also in danger of causing chemical spills that harm other people and the environment. Flammable chemicals may cause ship fires if exposed to excess heat, open flame, or electric sparks, which can injure or kill workers on board, especially when out to sea. Workers in the maritime industry may also be exposed by using chemicals to do their jobs, such as when cleaning, painting, or doing other maintenance work.
There are many different types of chemicals used in industry, and many of these must be shipped in large quantities. Not all are harmful, but many can cause injuries, illnesses, fatalities, and other consequences if not stored correctly or if a leak occurs. If you work on a chemical transport ship and you have been exposed or have experienced other consequences of working around or with chemicals, you may have a right to compensation. Contact maritime lawyers to find out what your rights are, and to file a claim and have good representation if necessary.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), hazardous chemicals used in the maritime industry must be labeled correctly to warn workers of the potential dangers. OSHA defines hazardous chemicals as those that can cause any kind of physical or health hazard. These include asphyxiants, dusts that are combustible, pyrophoric gases, and flammable liquids, among others. Examples of regulated hazardous chemicals used or transported in shipping include:
- Flammable liquids
- Spray finishing chemicals
- Hazardous waste
- Welding chemicals
- Vinyl chloride
- Toxic metals, like lead, arsenic, chromium, and cadmium
Exposure to chemicals while working in the maritime industry may happen in a couple of different ways. You may be exposed to chemicals on a regular basis if part of your job requires you to use them. For instance, you may need to use cleaners, paints, or solvents if you repair, built or maintain ships. You may also be exposed to chemicals if you work aboard a ship that is transporting them.
If you work with chemicals regularly, safety training is of the utmost importance. It is your employer’s responsibility to make sure that all workers are adequately trained to do their jobs and to do them safely. If you are not shown how to work with chemicals safely, or if you are not provided with the right safety equipment, you can become dangerously exposed.
When transporting chemical cargo, there are many things that could go wrong and lead to an accident. Training is important here too, and a lack of training or safety equipment could cause an accident and resultant exposure. How the cargo is stored is also a potential source of an accident. When chemicals aren’t stored properly, a leak, a spill, a rupture, or other accident could lead to exposure.
Injuries Caused by Chemical Exposure
If you do become exposed to toxic chemicals while working on or around a ship, there are several ways in which your health may suffer. Simply getting a chemical on your skin can cause burns, allergic reactions, infections, and even skin cancer. Repeated exposure is possible if you always work in the same conditions, and this factor can cause injuries to be worse. A one-time skin exposure may result in mild or severe reactions depending on the toxicity of the chemical and the amount to which you were exposed.
Inhalation is also a concern when exposed to certain chemicals. If you breathe in a toxic chemical, you may experience the same issues as skin exposure, but in your lungs and airways or on the inside of your mouth. Inhaling asphyixiants may cause you to be unable to breathe and absorb oxygen, which can lead to brain damage or even death. There are serious long-term consequences that can result from inhalation of toxic chemicals, from chronic lung disease to lung cancer.
Exposure to toxic chemicals in the maritime industry is a serious hazard, but larger chemical spills are also a cause for concern. A chemical spill or leak on board a ship not only has the potential to cause injury due to exposure, it may also cause a fire or environmental damage. When ships carry large amounts of chemicals as cargo, this risk of environmental disaster is greater.
Spills and accidents may be caused by a number of factors, but collisions are among the most serious and most common. If your ship collides with another ship or an inanimate object, or runs aground or into coral reefs, a hole may be torn in the hull which leads to a major spill. These large-scale accidents don’t just cause environmental damage; they also put all workers at risk of exposure, fires, and injury. Rescue workers, cleaners, and other nearby people are also at risk. The consequences can range from mild to severe, depending on how bad the collision is and how many people are involved in the clean-up and rescue efforts.
Examples of Accidents
Chemical exposure accidents are often small scale and don’t make the news. However, there has been some investigation into how workers are exposed. For example, one study looked at workers on a vessel processing crude oil. They found that most workers were not exposed to benzene, a harmful side product of crude oil production, but that those responsible for cleaning and maintaining tanks were significantly exposed and were at risk for harmful side effects.
Larger accidents are often considered more newsworthy and illustrate how risky it can be to carry chemical cargo. One example occurred in 2015 when a chemical tanker caught fire in its engine room. Although the fire had nothing to do with the cargo of chemicals on board, the fire could have spread to the cargo and caused a much more serious accident.
As a maritime worker, you have certain rights according to federal law. These rights protect you and ensure that you get compensation if you are injured while working. These injuries include chemical injuries. If you have been exposed to chemicals or were involved in a larger accident and spill that caused you harm, your employer or employer’s insurer should be providing you with compensation.
If you are being denied compensation to cover medical bills, lost wages, and other costs, you have the federal maritime laws to ensure that you can claim those costs. The laws can be confusing, so consult with a professional and experienced maritime lawyer to be sure you can file a claim under the correct law and get the compensation you are owed.