Seamen often work in dangerous conditions and take risks when on the job, but their employers are expected to take all reasonable measures to create a safe work environment. Part of that responsibility includes minimizing exposure to asbestos. This material has been used for many years in structures including ships to protect against fire, to strengthen materials, and to provide insulation, but is now recognized as a major health hazard. In particular, exposure to asbestos has been linked to a type of cancer caused mesothelioma.
The Jones Act protects seamen by providing them with rights in the event of injury or accidents on the job. Sometimes the accident is not as obvious as a trip-and-fall situation or malfunctioning equipment. If you work on a vessel and your employer has not taken the appropriate steps to protect the crew from asbestos exposure, he or she could be considered negligent if you become ill from exposure. With the Jones Act you can file a claim requesting compensation if you have been exposed to asbestos and get sick as a result.
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Asbestos on Ships
Asbestos is often found in old buildings, but it is a problem in ships too. In fact, asbestos on a ship presents a greater risk of exposure than when it is found in houses and other buildings. This is because a lot of asbestos was used in shipbuilding, especially some of the more dangerous types of the material. Additionally, the movement of ships, their instability, and the vibrations of machinery and the engine rooms causes more fiber from asbestos to be emitted. These factors put crews on ships with asbestos at an increased risk for exposure.
The potential locations on a ship where you may find asbestos are within concrete and floor tiling, in boiler cladding, in doors, in the glues used in furniture and the sealant used around windows, in brake linings, in gaskets, in heat insulation, and in electrical cables, just to name a few. In shipbuilding, asbestos was often applied by spraying, which makes it more friable, or more likely to emit fibers later, further increasing the risk of exposure to workers.
Regulation of Asbestos on Ships
In 2002 the first prohibition for asbestos went into effect. This first regulatory measure banned the new installation of asbestos for most purposes. A few exceptions remained until 2011 when all new installation of the material was prohibited in shipbuilding. This still left a lot of ships already in existence with risky components.
Ship owners are expected to keep workers safe if there is asbestos aboard. This responsibility includes many components. The crew should be educated and trained to be aware of the material and where it is on the ship, as well as to report problems or concerns to managers. Managers are expected to be aware of asbestos as well and should have a risk-management plan in place. The ultimate responsibility for protecting workers from asbestos lies with the shipowner.
Asbestos and the Jones Act
Seamen have rights under the Jones Act to sue a ship owner or employer if an injury or illness is caused by negligence. This includes illness caused by unnecessary exposure to asbestos. Because the responsibility for limiting exposure and training workers who are on ships with asbestos lies with the shipowner, negligence is often the root cause of exposure and resulting illness.
One major way in which asbestos exposure is different from other reasons for Jones Act claims is that the result of that exposure is typically delayed. For most Jones Act cases the seaman is injured on a vessel because of some type of accident. The injury occurs immediately and the connection between it and the accident is clear. With asbestos exposure, a seaman may not realize he or she is sick until many years later.
A diagnosis of mesothelioma may not come until decades after exposure occurred aboard a vessel. While in most cases it is important to report an accident and make a case for a Jones Act claim right away, with exposure to asbestos a seaman may not sue an employer until many years after the incident. This doesn’t mean that the claim is not valid.
If you think that you developed mesothelioma or any other illness because of past asbestos exposure while working as a seaman, you have rights under the Jones Act. Regardless of whether your employer is still in business or the company has changed names, you still have the right to sue. These claims can be complicated, though, so rely on the advice and expertise of a Jones Act lawyer who has worked with asbestos cases in the past. This will help you get the compensation you deserve for medical bills, pain and suffering, and other issues resulting from exposure to asbestos.