The Port of Seattle is the tenth largest maritime port in the U.S. and the largest in the state of Washington. As with other busy and large ports, it serves many different purposes from being a starting point for cruise ships and whale watching tours to moving cargo to and from container ships to providing dock areas for commercial fishing vessels and recreational boaters. The port is home to a number of maritime industries as well as recreational outfitters.
Also like other large and busy ports, the Port of Seattle can often be a dangerous place to work. The port and harbor area are dangerous for workers, crowded with trucks, equipment, cranes, and other machinery, but the ships and the work they do are also dangerous work places. Whether you work aboard a ship, in the port, or in some other related Seattle-area maritime job, you are at risk of getting injured on the job. If you do, you should know that you have options for getting compensation and laws to ensure that you get an adequate amount of money.
Seattle Maritime Industries and Jobs
If you are a part of the maritime industry in this area, you work in a dangerous job. Whether you are a longshoreman or a seaman, your daily work duties probably put you at risk of getting sick, getting injured, or even dying. At such a large port there are many different types of jobs and maritime industries at work.
One of these is cargo shipping. Cargo shipping is one of the most common and important industries here in Seattle. There are numerous large cargo and container terminals to provide the space needed for ships to come in to unload goods or to take on cargo to be shipped out to other locations. This is one of the busiest ports in the country because of how much cargo goes through it each year.
Tourism is another big maritime industry in the Port of Seattle. Many cruises to Alaska have their point of origin here, but whale watching and recreational charter fishing are also big business in the port. Commercial fishing is also important to the maritime industry of the city and port. Many commercial fishing vessels are based at the port and go in and out to bring in shipments of fish and shellfish.
With so much shipping, whether cargo, fishing, or recreational, that goes in and out of the Port of Seattle, it’s no wonder that the port is a major source of land-based maritime jobs. There are tugboat operators, pilots, longshoreman, stevedores, ship repair workers, truck drivers, fish processors, electricians, and many other kinds of workers that are a part of the industry, without being based on the ships themselves.
The Risks of Maritime Jobs
Regardless of which type of maritime job you do, there are risks. If you work in the port, as a longshoreman or other type of worker, you have to navigate the crowded and busy harbor and marina, doing your job without getting caught up in an accident. Huge cranes lift cargo to and from ships, trucks and other types of equipment move cargo around the harbor, and warehouses are stocked with cargo and equipment.
If any one part of the busy environment fails, an accident can occur. For instance, workers might improperly attach cargo to a train or truck, which could lead to it falling on and injuring or killing a worker. A trip hazard could cause a worker to fall from a dock into the water. Incorrectly stored cargo in a warehouse could cause a worker to be crushed or a fire to start that could harm many people.
For seamen working aboard the ships that come into dock at the port, there are a number of other risks. Workers aboard vessels have to contend with rough water out at sea, bad weather, and long and grueling working hours. Falls overboard, exposure to improperly stored toxic chemicals, ship fires, trips and slips, falls from ladders and walkways, and even hypothermia from being exposed to the elements are just a few of the many hazards faced by workers on ships.
Examples of Seattle Accidents
As such a large and busy port, Seattle has seen its fair share of accidents like those described here. Some occur out at sea, while others, like an incident from 2012, occur right in the port itself. The driver of a forklift died from being crushed between a shipping container and a forklift. It was a tragic accident which like many other accidents that occur in ports, should have been avoided.
In another tragedy, much earlier in 1994, a longshoreman was struck by the beam of a crane. The beam, which lifts cargo, weighs several tons. The worker was severely injured, and later died because of the injuries. As with the crushing accident that led to a fatality, this one should have been avoided. The man was working for a stevedoring company at the time that he died.
In 2012, truck drivers at the port walked off the job, effectively shutting down operations, over safety issues. The drivers said they were being pressured to overload their trucks, to dangerous weight levels. When the trucks were found to be overweight, the drivers said they took the blame and the fine, when really it was their employers who were at fault. They also complained that too many trucks were in poor condition and posed safety concerns. One driver cited an incident in which a truck in front of him broke down, sending heavy cargo scattering and nearly striking him.
Tourists and workers aboard tourist vessels also face serious dangers working on the water and in ports. A whale-watching boat capsized in late 2015 when large waves struck it. It happened so quickly that rescue was difficult and six people died. The remaining 21 passengers and crew were rescued. The tragic incident prompted a review of safety regulations, such as requiring passengers to wear life vests at all times.
Legal Rights for Maritime Workers
People working in the maritime industry, both those working on ships and those who spend more time in port-based jobs, have a right to compensation in the event of illness or injury on the job. If you spend most of your time on a ship you probably qualify as a seaman and are covered by the Jones Act. Many of the accidents that occur on ships can be blamed on some kind of negligence. If you can prove that negligence played even a small role in your accident, the Jones Act will allow you to file a claim to get compensation for medical bills and lost wages.
Accidents that occur to harbor workers and longshoreman are covered under the Longshoreman and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act. It provides similar compensation to the Jones Act, but does not require that negligence be proven. You can simply file your claim and prove that you were injured on the job to get money for your lost wages, medical expenses, and other related costs.
Most federal maritime laws also extend these rights to the dependent loved ones of those workers that died on the job. If you worry about your family, know that they are entitled to your benefits if you lose your life at work. To navigate all the laws that apply to maritime accidents is complicated. Rely on the experience of a knowledgeable maritime lawyer to get you through it and to represent you in your claim for adequate compensation.