Dry docks are an important part of ship maintenance. A dry dock is a walled structure that can be filled with water to allow a ship to maneuver in. Once the ship is in place, it is secured to blocks and the water is drained exposing the hull for maintenance, repairs, and survey. Dry docks can also be used for vessel construction.
In fact, international regulations under the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) call for periodic dry docking and surveys of the hull, rudder, propeller, and other components regularly exposed to corrosive sea water. Inspection requirements for passenger vessels may be even more stringent.
There are two primary types of dry docks:
Graving Dry Docks — typically rectangular structures dug into the ground near a channel and lined with concrete. The interior is made watertight using a gate.
Floating Dry Dock — usually open-ended floating structures that are partially submerged so that the vessel can navigate into place inside. The dry dock is then de-ballasted, raising the vessel out of the water.
Alternative arrangements for getting a ship “on the hard” include marine rail systems and giant lifts.
Make no mistake—dry docks are a dangerous place to work. Workers are injured in and around dry docks all over the country every year. Degassing, welding, and other potentially flammable activities regularly occur in dry dock where there is already limited airflow. These conditions can result in fires, explosions, and even toxic exposure. The vessel and the dry dock are both on a tight schedule while the vessel is out of the water. The quick pace can add to already dangerous conditions, such as the presence of large machinery, slippery surfaces, electrical shock, and tight spaces. There is also a steady stream of people, equipment, goods, and cargo being loaded and unloaded during dry dock. A single misstep can result in catastrophe. And the lack of safety equipment could take the situation from bad to worse in an instant.
While the job is dangerous, there is still no excuse for workplace negligence. Workers should be provided appropriate training and equipment—including safety equipment. They should only be asked to work around equipment and machinery that is routinely inspected, repaired as needed, and subject to preventative maintenance. Workspaces should be kept neat and tidy without clutter that may cause tripping.
Failure in providing any of the foregoing may expose drydock workers to unnecessary risk and personal injury. These injuries often include:
Cuts and Lacerations
Slip, Trip and Falls
Traumatic Brain Injuries
Maritime law is unique and a bit confusing to those who don’t specialize in admiralty cases. Dry dock workers are a good example of why. All kinds of different workers are involved at a dry dock—sand blasters, painters, welders, engineers, surveyors, naval architects, masters, mates, and other crewmembers, just to name a few. But not all of these workers are treated the same under the law if they are injured in a dry dock. Different statutes or compensation schemes can apply.
Many dry dock workers will fall under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA), a federal statute implemented by the Department of Labor. The LHWCA provides administrative compensation for some workers on a no-fault basis. Discerning maritime counsel may be able to identify other avenues of compensation against shipowners or third parties as well.
Other workers in a dry dock may be Jones Act seaman. The Jones Act was passed 100 years ago to protect merchant mariners. It entitles seamen to a safe place to work and makes maritime employers liable for negligence. Commercial seafarers may have older maritime common law remedies as well, known as unseaworthiness and maintenance and cure. Maintenance and cure are important for injured crewmembers because they may cover medical expenses and living expenses while the mariner recovers from an on-the-job injury.
Being injured in a dry dock accident can be confusing and worrisome. You may be wondering how to pay your bills and medical expenses. And you may be wondering if your employer is doing everything it is supposed to do under the law. But you may be even more surprised when you find out that not all attorneys understand the laws relevant to your case. This time is stressful enough already. Contact an experienced maritime attorney at Mariner Law, PLLC and ask for a free consultation. There’s no obligation to speak with a Jones Act lawyer: (253) 600-2531. The firm proudly serves mariner clients in Washington, Oregon, New York, Connecticut, Alaska, and nationwide.