Commercial diving is a dangerous maritime job. Commercial diving injuries can result from using heavy equipment underwater with all the inherent risks of drowning, hypothermia, circulatory problems, and poor visibility. If you work as a commercial diver and have been injured in an accident, know your rights and the compensation to which you are entitled.
The Dangers of Commercial Diving
Any diving involves risk, but working on commercial dive boats is especially dangerous. Recreational divers may face risks from being underwater for too long, ascending too quickly, or even from sharks and other harmful animals.
Get Matched with a Leading Maritime Attorney in Your Area
- Find the leading maritime lawyers in your area
- Discover how to get compensation as fast as possible
- Learn your legal rights as an injured maritime worker
However, recreational divers don’t take these risks every day, don’t handle big equipment, and don’t work in construction zones or in turbulent water with low visibility.
All the risks associated with diving are multiplied for those who dive daily for work. They spend most days underwater and do a variety of different kinds of jobs.
Divers may work for law enforcement investigating crime scenes and looking for bodies as underwater photographers or on academic teams excavating underwater archaeological sites. Most commercial divers, though, do much dirtier, more dangerous work.
Common types of jobs for commercial divers include:
- Making underwater repairs on oil rigs
- Constructing underwater pipelines
- Diving at coastal nuclear power plants
- Constructing and maintaining bridges, harbors, or hydroelectric dams and power plants
- Diving for crustaceans and shellfish in murky and dangerous waters
These jobs require taking daily risks, including exposure to toxic chemicals, working with power tools and other equipment, working in low-visibility conditions, and experiencing equipment malfunctions.
Common Injuries and Illnesses in Commercial Diving
Diving carries inherent risks, no matter what job is being done or the conditions in the water. Divers can suffer from several conditions and symptoms related to pressure and gases:
- Gas narcosis, which can occur on especially deep dives
- Gas toxicity from oxygen and carbon dioxide
- Decompression sickness, which sometimes happens after ascending
- Pain from expanding gas in the blood or lungs
- Dysbaric osteonecrosis, a condition that causes lesions on the bones
In addition to these diving-related illnesses, commercial dive workers may suffer accidents from not being adequately trained for their work or the equipment they use.
They may also be injured when coworkers are not sufficiently trained, safety training has been lax, or safety equipment is missing or broken.
Even trained workers can have equipment accidents such as burns from welding equipment, cuts or injuries from collisions with propellers or dive boats in murky waters, or injuries resulting from equipment that has not been adequately maintained.
Examples of Commercial Diving Accidents
There are only between 5,000 and 8,000 workers in commercial diving in the U.S. at any given point in time, but for this small number, there have been a disproportionate number of accidents.
- In one incident, a commercial diver collecting geoduck in the Port of Seattle died from lack of oxygen. He was pulled from the water, and CPR was administered, but he died later in the hospital. The diver had a diving partner and was experienced, yet he became tangled in the breathing tubes that provided him with oxygen. Exactly how it happened is unknown, but the incident illustrates how diving can be risky.
- In another diving accident, a man died while diving off the coast of New Jersey in cold winter waters. Diving partners found the man’s body on the seafloor without apparent cause of death. This accident further illustrates how dangerous diving can be and how diving means taking a risk even with the right equipment and training.
Negligence in Commercial Diving Accidents
If you work aboard a commercial dive boat and as a diver, you have protection under federal maritime law, especially in negligence cases. Your employer is responsible for taking all reasonable precautions to keep you safe while you work.
This means providing you with adequate training for the work you do, as well as proper safety training. You are also entitled to the appropriate equipment; both needed to do your job and safety equipment.
Your employer must keep that equipment maintained and in working order. Your employer also has to ensure that all workers get adequate break time and are not working in unreasonably hazardous conditions.
When any of these responsibilities are not met, no matter how minor it may seem, an accident can happen. For example, if you work a longer shift than you are supposed to because your boss is pressuring you to do the job, you could have an accident due to fatigue. This type of accident involves negligence.
Your Rights to Compensation
If you are injured during a dive, you have the right to compensation, whether negligence played a role in the accident or not. If you qualify under the Jones Act and prove that negligence played any role in the injury, you can claim compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
If you work on an oil rig, you may qualify for compensation under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, regardless of negligence. You could be eligible under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act if you work in a harbor. Any of these may also compensate your loved ones if you die on the job.
If you are faced with a denial of compensation for your commercial diving accident, you need the help of an experienced maritime lawyer. A professional can guide you through the often-confusing process of filing claims and even going to court.