Working on or around a pier can be a hazardous job. Not everyone realizes that the maritime industry is not limited to working on a ship at sea, or that the onshore jobs can be just as risky. Piers, harbors, shipping terminals, and dockyards are dangerous places to work with any number of hazards including falls, fires, and malfunctioning heavy equipment. Even the simple fact that there are a lot of objects around in a crowded pier area can make it hazardous. If you are the victim of one of these accidents, it can be just as devastating as any shipboard accident experienced by a seaman.
Too often these pier-based accidents are caused by negligence and could have been prevented with some simple precautionary steps. Inadequate training, poorly-maintained equipment, carelessness and human error, and missing safety gear are often to blame for accidents in and around piers and docked ships. If you work in this industry, know that you have rights and that you are entitled to compensation if you have been injured on the job. If you are killed on the job in these areas, your dependent loved ones also have those rights.
Types of Accidents
Many different types of accidents can occur in this work environment. Working on a pier, you put yourself in harm’s way on a daily basis. For example, falling is not uncommon when you have to move from the pier to the ship and back several times a day, especially when carrying cargo and other materials. Workers may fall from walkways into the water, onto the ship, or onto the ground from a crane, a personnel carrier or platform, or from a roof of a warehouse. The falls themselves can be dangerous, but when a worker is carrying cargo, those items can also cause injuries. Falls into the water are also possible, and can be serious if no one helps right away.
Loading and unloading of cargo is an important job in the maritime industry. If you work on a pier, carrying or using machinery to transport cargo from pier to ship and back again, there are several possible hazards. The large cranes used to move cargo, like shipping containers, can malfunction, due to human error or poor maintenance, and cause heavy loads to drop, sometimes on workers. The swinging parts of a crane may strike a worker, and cranes that carry personnel to and from large ships may drop them into the water or on land and cause serious injuries and fatalities.
Injuries on the pier itself are also not uncommon. Piers in crowded shipyards are hectic places. There is cargo, equipment, people, and even vehicles cluttering the pier, making trip hazards common. Workers may trip and fall over any number of obstacles. A fall into the water can be particularly dangerous. The vehicles, including trucks and forklifts, that move up and down piers can also cause accidents when a driver isn’t paying attention or a worker thinks he has enough time to run in front of a moving vehicle. It is not uncommon for pier workers to be struck by cranes, forklifts, and trucks.
Causes of Pier Accidents
Many of the accidents that occur on piers and in ports, from fires and crane accidents to trip and falls and vehicle collisions, are preventable. Negligence is a common cause of accidents. For example, not maintaining equipment or making appropriate repairs causes machinery to malfunction, and this can lead to serious accidents. If a crane is faulty, for example, it may drop cargo or loose parts on any workers below. Electrical equipment that is not properly maintained or grounded can start fires.
Training for personnel is another important issue in preventable accidents. If workers are not properly trained to do their jobs, they can make mistakes that lead to accidents, injuries, or even deaths. Untrained workers are a risk to themselves, but also to other well-trained workers around them. One mistake made in procedures or when operating equipment can have rippling effects. Safety training is as important as job training and when workers don’t understand how to use equipment safely, accidents result. Also important is having access to safety equipment that is in working order so that well-trained workers can respond to accidents quickly and effectively.
On crowded piers, trip hazards are common causes of accidents. A worker tripping and falling may be hurt from landing on something sharp or hard, or may even fall into the water and drown if not rescued. A crowded space may be necessary in this kind of working environment, but precautions should be taken to keep cargo and equipment in order on a pier. This minimizes and prevents many tripping accidents. Workers also need to be trained in the dangers of tripping and falling and encouraged to be alert at all times on the job.
Examples of Shore Accidents
There are too many stories of people being injured or even killed in accidents on piers, in harbors, and on docks in the shipping industry. One such example, which could have been more tragic, occurred in 2013 when a worker in a truck suffered back and neck injuries. A cargo shipping container dropped from a crane at the South Carolina port, and landed on the truck in which the worker was sitting. If he had not been in the truck, the accident would likely have been fatal as the container would have easily crushed him. Whatever caused the container to drop, equipment malfunction or operator error, was probably preventable.
Another pier accident was more tragic, and occurred in the Port of Los Angeles when a truck driver drove off the pier and into the water. He was unable to get free from the truck and drowned in the water. His body was later recovered and no one could determine the cause of the accident or what led him to lose control and end up in the water. What was known was that safety equipment in the area was lacking. There was no railing at the location where he drove into the water. A simple safety railing might have prevented this tragic pier incident by providing a barrier to falls.
Examples of accidents on piers are all too common. There are many more news stories like these, some which end in serious injuries and others that end in fatalities. What is consistent across all of these stories is that most of them could have been prevented with better training, better equipment, better maintenance, and better judgment and care. Simply being more careful in this dangerous work environment can make all the difference and change the future of a maritime worker.
As a worker in the maritime industry, you have a job that is dangerous and full of daily hazards. You also have federal maritime laws to protect you and to ensure that you get compensation in the event of injuries suffered on the job. For a pier worker, the Longshore and Harbor Worker’s Compensation Act is the law that is most likely to cover injuries and accidents. This is a federal workers’ compensation law that includes harbor and pier workers who do not qualify as seamen under the Jones Act. You can also rest assured that the loved ones who depend on you also have rights to compensation in the tragic event that a workplace accident kills you.
If you work in a pier environment at a port, terminal, or ship yards, and you have been the victim of an accident while on the job, you have a right to compensation. Your employer may refuse compensation, but the law is on your side. It isn’t always easy to navigate, though. To figure out which law applies to your situation and how to file a claim to get the money you deserve, rely on the experience of a professional maritime attorney to guide you through the process.