According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the most common source of accidents and injuries across all industries are slips, trips, and falls. Such incidents are not just for the clumsy. Anyone can fall if impediments are in the way or if surfaces are slick. These accidents not only cause a lot of injuries, they also cause fatalities. While any workplace can be hazardous, ships are especially prone to causing workers to trip, slip, and have nasty falls that cause injuries and even deaths in the worst situations.
Ships are often crowded with cargo, workers, and equipment. Decks may be wet and slippery. Trip hazards are commonplace. Navigating a ship requires balance, skill, and attention. Even with all precautions taken and experience and knowledge about the layout of a ship, a slip and fall accident is not uncommon aboard any ship for any worker. Regardless of how a slip and fall happens, if you experience this accident while working on a vessel, and are injured, you have a right to file for compensation thanks to maritime law.
Causes of Slip, Trip, and Fall Accidents
There are many reasons that slip and fall accidents occur more on ships than in other workplaces. The most obvious cause is the fact that there is no real solid ground. A ship at sea is at the mercy of the water and the weather. Even in calm waters a ship is not stationary and that means that workers must maintain balance while moving around the ship. If wind or a large wave rocks the ship, falls become more likely. Even an experienced seaman with strong sea legs can be caught off guard by a sudden movement and have a fall or a trip as a result. Anyone on any ship is susceptible to losing balance and falling into a dangerous situation.
Slips on ships are also common for many reasons, one of which is water. Decks are exposed to the elements and if it rains, snows, sleets, or if waves crash onto the deck, it gets wet or even icy, depending on the temperature. These conditions can make the surface slippery and falls are not uncommon as a result. If a ship deck has a non-slip surface and if workers wear appropriate deck shoes, slips can be minimized but may still happen. Even with these precautions in place on a deck or other floor, a spill of oil or other liquid can turn a previously safe deck into an instant slip hazard.
While navigating the often crowded space of a ship, trip hazards are everywhere. Even when cargo is stored properly and equipment is where it should be, trips can happen. There are all kinds of obstructions on the deck and below deck of a ship. Experienced workers on ships know to expect these kinds of hazards and to be careful, but still may trip and fall when in a hurry or not being as careful as they should be. To prevent many trips, good lighting is necessary. Bright painting or reflective tape can also identify hazards that are difficult to see, even in good light.
Both trips and slips can lead to falls, which may result in injuries ranging from the mild to the severe and in the worst cases to death. A slip or trip that results in a fall may occur if the accident occurs on stairs or on a walk way. A slip near the edge of the deck could also lead to a fall overboard. Falls are especially likely or dangerous if there is no guardrail or a broken guardrail on a walkway, stairway, or deck. Some falls are not very serious, while others can be from great heights on to a deck or into the water. If no one is there to see the worker fall and provide assistance, the consequences can be especially severe.
These kinds of accidents can lead to a variety of injuries. For the lucky workers the accident may only cause a stubbed toe or a few bruises. Unfortunately, for many other workers on ships, slips, trips, and falls lead to more serious injuries or fatalities. Some of the types of injuries that may result from these onboard accidents include:
- Cuts and scrapes
- Ankle or wrist sprains
- Broken bones
- Torn ligaments
- Head, neck, and back injuries
- Spinal cord injuries
There have been countless incidents of slips or trips resulting in falls and injuries or fatalities aboard ships over the years, including those involving crew members and passengers. In one such case, which occurred in 2009, a passenger aboard a Carnival cruise ship slipped on a new resin surface on the pool deck and fell. The passenger suffered from a broken patella, or knee cap, and had to have multiple surgeries to correct the damage. The cruise line was found liable as it was proven that they knew the surface was too slippery, and the woman was awarded significant damages.
In another incident, a worker on a barge slipped and fell on a surface covered with petroleum products. He was transferring oil from one barge to another when he slipped on the surface and got a foot stuck between the hose and a rail. In trying to disentangle himself, he slipped again and struck his knee on the hard surface. The worker suffered painful injuries and was unable to return to work. The incident underscores how important it is for surfaces on ships and near ships to be kept clean and dry. Slipping on dirty surfaces, especially where oil products are used, is easy to do and the consequences can be far-reaching.
Cruise ships are often the setting for tragic falls overboard. A fall could be precipitated by many things, including a tripping over an obstacle and going over the guardrail, or slipping and falling over the edge. Sometimes these falls overboard are more sinister in nature and may be criminal acts. For instance, in 2015, a man fell overboard and couldn’t be found, even after searching for hours. The circumstances were suspicious. The man had been drinking and arguing with someone else.
Legal Rights for Slip and Fall Victims
For workers who have experienced slip and fall accidents or trips that led to falls, there are rights under federal maritime law that guarantees them compensation. Even if no one can be found to be at fault for an incident, maritime workers are entitled to some compensation to cover medical bills and living expenses until they can return to work.
There is also the Jones Act, a federal maritime law that can be used in cases of negligence. If you are injured after slipping or tripping at work on a ship and you believe your employer’s negligence contributed to it, you could be entitled to compensation through this law. If you have been denied the money you believe you are owed, either by your employer or your employer’s insurer, you can file a Jones Act claim to challenge them. It isn’t always easy to interpret these laws and situations, so if you find yourself injured from a slip and fall, contact an experienced maritime attorney to represent you and to help you get the money you deserve.