Working in the maritime industry is dangerous, and although many people envision these workers aboard ships risking life and limb, those working in terminals are also doing dangerous work. A maritime terminal is any port, wharf, ferry slip, shipping harbor, docks, or other areas associated with stationary ships. Workers in these areas are responsible for loading and unloading cargo, transporting cargo, building ships, repairing ships, and working on equipment and machinery involved in shipping.
Maritime workers in terminals and ports are often called longshoremen, and they face a number of health and safety risks on the job. One of the biggest risks is falling. Terminal workers are at risk of falling from heights, onto equipment and cargo, or into water. Any type of fall could lead to injury or even a death, and the causes of such falls range from poor safety training to inadequate mechanical maintenance. If you have been injured in a terminal fall, know your rights under maritime law.
Types of Falls at Maritime Terminals
There are a number of situations in which a maritime terminal worker or longshoreman could accidentally fall and be hurt or killed. One such type of fall may occur when a worker falls overboard or off a dock and into the water. Anyone aboard a ship is at risk of falling overboard, but workers transporting cargo to and from a ship are also at risk. Carrying heavy loads over walkways and up and down ladders and steps can lead to a fall into the water.
Workers in terminals may also have falls that are not related to the water at all. These workers may operate equipment at heights over the terminal and could fall from quite a great height if something goes wrong. For example, a personnel platform is a piece of equipment that is used to move people and cargo to and from ships and cargo freighters. These are large platforms that are connected to the container spreader on a cargo crane. Falls from these platforms are always possible.
In addition to these two most likely types of falls, workers in maritime terminals may fall in any number of other situations. They may fall from transport vehicles and trucks moving cargo throughout the port. Even the buildings in a port or harbor may be the source of a fall. Anyone working on scaffolding, on roofs, or on equipment in storage buildings may be at risk for a serious fall.
Causes of Falls
Falls involving maritime terminal workers can range from small falls with no injuries or minor injuries to big falls that cause serious injuries or fatalities. It is important to understand the causes of falls to better prevent them from happening in the future. Most accidents in these situations could have been prevented and employers are responsible for taking all precautions possible to keep workers safe from falls and other types of incidents.
A lack of safety equipment is a big cause of falls in maritime situations. For example, when workers carry cargo over a walkway from the dock to a ship, there should be adequate railings to protect the worker from falling should he lose balance. Similarly, on board all ships there should be railings to keep workers from falling overboard. These kinds of falls can occur when a worker loses balance, is nudged, or when the ship is struck by another object. With safety equipment in place, a fall should be prevented.
Mechanical maintenance is another important issue in marine safety. When the equipment that workers use every day is not well maintained or not functioning properly, accidents can easily happen. For instance, if a crane with a personnel platform is not well maintained, it could fail and cause workers to fall from the platform.
Finally, human error is a common cause of accidents like falls at maritime terminals. Human error most often results from inadequate training. Employers are responsible for ensuring that all workers have been trained for the jobs they do. When just one person is not trained, everyone is at risk. A lack of safety training is also a key cause of accidents, including falls.
In the best case scenario, a fall causes no injuries, but this is not likely. Most maritime terminal falls lead to at least minor injuries to workers involved. The higher the fall, the more likely there is to be injuries. The likelihood of injuries and their severity also depends on where the worker falls and whether anyone is there to assist immediately or not. Common injuries from falls include:
- Fractured or broken bones
- Bruising, cuts, or scrapes
- Puncture wounds
- Head, neck, or back injuries
Examples of Terminal Falls
Falls in terminals are an everyday risk for those workers employed in them. For example, in one tragic incident a worker died after falling 20 feet from the roof of a marine terminal warehouse. The worker was performing routine maintenance in cleaning out a chute-conveyor system, which involved walking across the roof of the warehouse. The roof collapsed when the worker stepped on a weak spot. This accident could have been prevented if the employer had kept the roof in good shape.
In another incident, a marine terminal worker fell 15 feet into a large dumpster while working on a ship at port. Fortunately the man was rescued right away and suffered only a broken arm during the fall. In a similar incident a worker fell from a walkway. Luckily the fall was only seven feet and he suffered only minor injuries.
Terminal Workers’ Rights
If you work in a maritime terminal and you have experienced a fall that left you injured, you may be entitled to compensation for medical bills, lost wages, and more. Most terminal workers are covered under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, a federal maritime law that provides workers’ compensation to maritime workers in harbors and ports. If you are unsure of your rights or if negligence was involved, contact an experienced maritime lawyer to help you get the compensation you deserve.