A Seaman’s Work Risks, Injuries, and Rights: A Quick Glance

Seamen perform different jobs, from guarding waterways to transporting cargo and supporting the fishing industry. The maritime industry is one of the most dangerous for its employees, with seamen suffering from more injuries and fatalities than most professions.

Seamen face numerous risks on the job, from small ones like slip and falls to catastrophic ones like the Deepwater Horizon accident. Understanding these risks is vital to have a clear picture of the job and what it takes to remain safe while working.

Common Hazards

During deployment, these brave men and women face a series of dangers. While the most dangerous and catastrophic hazards are sinking and shipwreck, these incidents are quite rare. Instead, the threats most commonly faced by seamen have a smaller magnitude and involve daily activities.

Accident Hazards

In most cases, these hazards are easily avoidable. For example, when ships are fitted with railings of the proper height, fewer seamen fall overboard. Securing mooring lines and hinges will prevent them from swinging loose and striking people, and providing adequate personal protective equipment will prevent burn injuries. Employers and employees have a responsibility to make the workplace as safe as possible for the crew.

Accident hazards include:

  • Falling from the ship into deep water
  • Falling from one deck to another, or from the deck into the hold
  • Falling from the deck to the dock
  • Being struck by falling objects
  • Being struck by moving objects, like mooring lines, hinges, and cargo doors
  • Being caught between ship structures
  • Electric shock
  • Burns from the steam engine and related equipment
  • Explosions
  • Collisions with other vessels

Physical Hazards

This category refers to the physical conditions to which seamen are exposed while on duty. Employees are confined to limited space for long periods. Seamen must perform work-related duties and also spend their free time activities in the same space. Furthermore, they continue to be surrounded by the same group of people.

  • Working under extreme temperatures
  • Vibration in the body due to the ship’s movement
  • Exposure to extreme heat below deck
  • Hearing loss due to daily exposure to loud ship noise
  • Exposure to chemical exposure from solvents, detergent, fuel, and pesticides
  • Exposure to chemical cargo
  • Diseases that spread quickly through an isolated population
  • Poisoning from contaminated food and water

Quality of Life Hazards

The mental and emotional impact of the job is just as important as the physical one, yet it is often overlooked. While modern technology offers more possibilities to stay in contact with loved ones while at sea, this is not always an option. The daily monotony of duties can lead to mental health issues like depression.

  • Mental health issues arising from being at sea for days, weeks, or months at a time
  • Cramped living quarters leading to discomfort
  • Mental exhaustion from having to perform repetitive tasks
  • Loneliness due to separation from friends and family

Ways to Prevent Injury and Accidents While Working at Sea

Most injuries can be prevented by taking a few steps to ensure safety. While a large part of this responsibility falls on employers and supervisors, the fact is that all crew members must play their part in securing a safe environment. Safety checks must be performed before going on a voyage, but these should continue to be executed regularly for the duration of the trip.

Some basic safety measures include:

  • Wearing a harness when working on high decks
  • Ensure that there are adequate life rafts for each crew member
  • Make sure all windows, ports, and hatches are closed
  • Make sure that emergency equipment (bailers, first aid kits, hand pumps, and signaling equipment) is fully functioning before the trip starts

Benefits for Injured Seamen

Injuries and accidents happen even when employers take every precaution possible to avoid them. When accidents happen, seamen have the right to compensation for their injuries and accommodation to help them return to work. There are several claims that seamen can file when hurt on the job.

If you were injured while at sea, you can seek legal help for professional guidance on proceeding with your benefits claim. A New Orleans seaman injury attorney can fight for your rights and get you the money you deserve.

The Jones Act

The Jones Act is a federal law that offers professional seamen the right to file a lawsuit against their employer for negligence if they were injured on the job. This profession falls under a special category that does not qualify for standard workers’ compensation.

Jones Act claims are similar to workers’ compensation claims but are filed directly against the employer for damages. These only apply to workers who spend at least 30% or more of their time on the water.

Maintenance and Cure Benefits

A maintenance and cure claim will force your employer to pay you money to support your recovery if they have not paid the full amount you are owed for your injuries. One of the benefits of this claim is that injured seamen can qualify regardless of who’s fault led to the accident.

Unseaworthiness Claim

This is a type of maritime law claim. Unseaworthiness claims, as their name suggests, are filed when the vessel in which you were injured was deemed not safe for travel and work (this can include the lack of proper safety equipment for the crew). These claims are filed against the owner of the vessel.

Negligence Claim

Seamen is the only group of workers who may file a negligence claim against their employer. They have this chance on account of the Jones Act. However, to do so, certain conditions must be met. A lawyer can go over your case and determine if you have a valid case. Negligence claims cover your medical expenses, lost wages, and other expenses when your employer has not taken steps to prevent accidents or injury.

Safe Voyage Ahead

Seamen work challenging jobs, often in weather extremes, for months on end. Many hazards are part of the job, but many of these are avoidable. When you take on the job, your employer has a legal obligation to provide a safe workplace. If you have been injured while on the job, you may be entitled to compensation. A personal injury lawyer can protect your rights and help you recover.


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