Working in the maritime industry requires specific training in order to do jobs correctly, efficiently, but more importantly, safely. Most jobs on ships, in harbors, and on offshore platforms are dangerous. Even with well-trained workers, there are all kinds of risks and hazards from bad weather to rough waters to malfunctioning equipment and fatigued workers.
When those people responsible for doing the dangerous work of loading and unloading ships, operating tugboats, fishing, processing fish, and working on board tankers and any number of other types of ship are not trained for their jobs, the risks of accidents skyrockets. There are so many precautions that can be taken to prevent maritime accidents, injuries, and deaths, and proper training of workers is just one of them. Studies have found that proper training of employees represents the number one way in which disasters at sea could be avoided.
Lack of Job Training
Whatever type of job a person working in the maritime industry is doing, it requires some degree of training. Seamen require at least basic training on the operation and maintenance of the vessel on which they work, but also training for the particular jobs they do. For example, on a commercial fishing vessel, workers must be trained in how to use the trawl winch or the plate freezer and processing equipment. Offshore oil workers need training to use the specialized drilling equipment.
When workers are not trained to do their jobs well, they are more likely to make a mistake. A mistake made in an office job may not be dangerous or life-threatening, but in the maritime industry, just one little mistake can cause a serious accident. For example, not knowing where to stand on a fishing vessel could result in a worker getting caught in a net and getting hauled overboard where he could easily drown. Workers using heavy machinery aboard a ship or in harbor might make a mistake that causes a load of cargo to crash down onto the workers below. When just one person is untrained, everyone is at risk.
Lack of Safety Training
In addition to specific training for job skills, workers in the maritime industry also need to be trained for safety procedures and to be able to use safety equipment. A worker may understand how to use a conveyor belt, but if he doesn’t understand what steps to take when he sees someone get caught in it, that worker could suffer serious injuries. Safety training helps workers act quickly when someone falls overboard, gets caught in machinery, gets tangled in fishing lines, falls from a walkway, or suffers some other type of accident. Safety training can both prevent accidents and make the consequences of accidents less severe.
The Employer’s Responsibility
According to maritime law and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), workers are entitled to proper training, both for needed skills to do a job and for safety procedures and equipment. OSHA states that employers in all industries, including maritime, must provide safety training to educate workers about job hazards. They are required to keep a record of safety incidents and injuries. They must provide any appropriate health screenings for workers and notify OSHA about any fatalities that occur on the job. Workers have a right to work in a job that is as safe as it can possibly be, which means that everyone receives adequate training.
Examples of Accidents
Whenever a maritime accident occurs, an investigation must be done to determine the cause. Sometimes bad weather causes an accident, or an equipment malfunction, but too many times the real cause is human error. The error may be a miscommunication, improper use of equipment, failure to act with safety procedures to help someone in harm’s way, or a lack of knowledge of general ship procedures. Even with good training, human error can certainly cause accidents, but most of the time, proper training can eliminate these mistakes in judgement.
For example, in one case, poor training led to a serious fire that left people injured. In 2013, fires aboard a barge in Mobile, Alabama caused explosions in two different barges. The start of the fire was blamed on flammable vapors coming from tanks near the engine room of the barge. An investigation later found that employees on the barge had not been properly trained in keeping the tanks clean and this caused leaks that led to the fires. Three people were hurt in the incident, which might have been prevented with better training in how to correctly clean and maintain tanks carrying dangerous and flammable materials.
Even the military is not immune from inadequate training and the resulting human error. In 2012 two Navy vessels collided with each other during a training exercise. The collision was blamed on human error, bad teamwork, and a commanding officer who was not following procedures. The exercise may have been for training purposes, but it betrayed a lack of training for many of the people involved in the incident. Several errors that could have been prevented led to this collision, and all were lucky not to have been injured.
In 2013 a Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue incident also betrayed poor training, even while in the midst of a training exercise. A search-and-rescue exercise ended in disaster when an inflatable boat overturned in the water. Two workers involved in the training exercise were trapped under the boat and drowned. Two survivors suffered hypothermia, but recovered. The investigation found that the equipment used during the training was inadequate for the task. Although the incident came from training, poor training led someone to make the wrong choice about equipment.
Maritime workers have a right to proper training to do their jobs and to adequate safety training. When an employer does not provide these the worker is at a greater risk for injury or death while on the job and the employer may be found negligent in such incidents. Workers in the maritime industry also have a right to compensation when they are injured at work. If you have been injured for any reason, you have a right to get money for your medical expenses and living expenses while you are off the job.
If you can demonstrate that your employer was negligent in not providing adequate training and that this lack of training led to an accident, you may be eligible for even more compensation. The Jones Act allows for workers qualified as seamen to file claims for compensation where negligence has played even just a small role in an accident. If you find yourself in this situation, let an experienced maritime lawyer help guide you through a claims filing and the recuperation of damages you need to get your life back together.