Working aboard a ship means navigating a lot of risks. Whether you work aboard a commercial fishing vessel, a cruise ship, a tanker, or any other kind of maritime vessel, you probably are required to use ladders and staircases. These can be hazardous areas even on land, but when you are on a moving vessel, with possibly rough waters and bad weather, the risks multiply.
From falls to slips and trips, navigating the ladders and steps aboard any kind of ship in any whether, means facing the possibility of an accident and resulting injuries. If you work on a ship you may get injured in this way, especially if these parts of your ship have not been well maintained. If you are injured you have rights to compensation from your employer and the right to fight for it if it is denied. If negligence can be proven to have played a part in your accident, you may be entitled to more compensation than what your employer initially offers you.
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The Dangers of Moving on a Moving Ship
Most of us use steps and staircases in everyday life without incident. Many of us use ladders too, for getting chores and repairs done. There are inherent risks in climbing to higher heights, but imagine that the ground on which your ladder or staircase rests is shaking, rolling, and moving. When you have to navigate these obstacles aboard a ship at sea, the risk of falling becomes much greater. Even if you have the most experienced sea legs, you could still fall and become injured or even be killed, depending on the distance you fall.
According to research on ship injuries and accidents, those that occurred because of a worker moving from one place to another, often involving a ladder or steps, accounted for ten percent of accidents. However, these types of accidents account for more than 20 percent of injuries severe enough to cause permanent disabilities. The fact is that, no matter how experienced you are with moving around on a ship, just one little accident has a significant chance of leading to an injury that could sideline you for the rest of your life. And in many cases these falls and injuries were preventable.
Moving around on a ship becomes especially dangerous when waters are rough. This can cause the ship to move suddenly and lead to an unexpected fall. Bad weather can also increase the odds of a fall. Wind can loosen your grip on a handle and wet surfaces increase the risk of slipping. When bad weather and rough waters pop up, an accident may truly be an accident, but in many cases there are other factors involved. Negligence in the form of poor maintenance is the other factor that increases ladder accidents. If ladders and staircases don’t get regular maintenance and repairs, they can fail when in use and cause a fall.
Common Ladder and Staircase Injuries
Most accidents that occur on steps or ladders aboard ships are slips and falls. If you slip on a staircase or ladder you could hit the rest of the rungs or stairs falling down to the next level. You may also fall over the side of a ladder or staircase and fall much further. These kinds of accidents cause bone fractures, bruising, cuts, head and neck injuries, shoulder injuries, back injuries, and in the worst case these accidents can also cause fatalities. If you are carrying cargo or equipment, this increases the chance that your fall may cause serious injuries.
Falls from ladders or steps may be true accidents in some cases. Even the most experienced seaman working aboard a well-maintained ship, wearing the proper gear is at risk from falling from a ladder when the water gets rough or the weather is bad, or both. On the other hand, many such accidents are the result of negligence and could have been prevented.
The International Labor Organization has set several standards for stairs and ladders aboard ships and if these are not met, an employer or ship owner could be considered negligent in an accident. These requirements include clearly marking stairs with a maximum weight capacity. Ladders are supposed to be clearly marked as to the maximum angle of use. Ladders and stairways are expected to be a certain minimum width and to be made of appropriate materials in order to support necessary weight. There are also guidelines for the widths of gaps between stairs and rungs and between the top and bottom of stairs and ladders and the floor.
Regular inspections are also a part of the guidelines for ladder and step safety. Employers are responsible for making sure that steps and rungs and other parts of this equipment is in good working order and able to take weight. Stairs and ladders should also be kept clean and as dry as possible to minimize slipping and tripping, and workers should be wearing appropriate footwear. Paints and coatings that increase friction are necessary to minimize slipping on steps and ladder fungs.
Examples of Accidents
There are many incidents that demonstrate just how dangerous traversing levels on a ship can be. For instance, a pilot in Sydney in 1997 fell from a pilot ladder and onto the deck of the boat. He was moving in the darkness and during inclement weather, both of which led to his loss of grip and fall. Pilot ladders can be especially risky and hazardous. They are called Jacob’s ladders and they are made of wooden rungs held together by rope. While there are good reasons to use these lightweight ladders that are easy to move, their design makes them dangerous to navigate. Even experienced maritime workers can easily fall from them, especially in bad weather conditions.
In another incident from 1998 a worker fell from a ladder and drowned. The worker grabbed for a ladder rung, which broke off and caused the fall. He was not wearing a personal flotation device. Both the lack of a safe ladder and safety equipment could be considered negligence. In another fall from stairs, which occurred in 1999 off the coast of England, plastic sheets covering the stairs and inappropriate footwear were blamed. All stairways and ladders should be clear of obstacles and workers should be provided with the right attire for navigating a ship.
In 2008, a worker aboard a Saudi Arabian container ship stationed in Hong Kong fell from a walkway and died after receiving an electrical shock. The walkway connected two cargo holds and the fall dropped nearly 60 feet. The walkway was found to have no protective railing, which had it been in place, would have prevented the worker from falling to his death.
Rights for Injured Workers
If you work on a ship and fell from a ladder or staircase, you may have experienced some serious injuries. Whether it was a true accident or you can prove that someone was negligent, you are entitled to compensation from your employer or employer’s insurer to cover medical costs and any lost income. You may also be entitled to extra compensation if your future ability to earn a living is compromised or you suffer from mental trauma from the accident.
If you are being denied this right, you may need the help of an experienced maritime lawyer to file a claim and fight for the compensation you deserve. This may be especially true if negligence was involved in the accident. In the unfortunate event that you die in such an accident, your dependents also have rights, and a lawyer can help them get what they are owed in such a tragedy.