Some may assume that gangways, ladders, and steps are too commonplace to be dangerous in the maritime industry. In reality, negligence related to ladders, gangways, ramps, and stairs regularly injures maritime employees.
Gangway accidents are a serious problem. The ABS Mariner Safety Research database has indicated that approximately 6% of gangway incidents result in a fatality. Another 60% of gangway-related injuries can be severe enough to result in lost time on the job. Gangways, sometime called gangplanks, take all forms and shapes from giant structures next to cruise ships, to hydraulic accommodation ladders on containerships, to ramps extended from recreational vessels.
Vessel and shoreside operations are replete with ladders. It’s hard to overstate the importance of ladder safety to seamen, longshoremen, and other maritime workers. According to the Center of Disease Control, ladder-related injuries are most commonly caused by:
Incorrect ladder angles
Wrong ladder for the job
Improper ladder inspection
Improper ladder use
Lack of ladder safety accessories
Lack of safety information
These ladder hazards are common enough that the National Institute for Occupation Safety and Health (NIOSH) created a smartphone application that contains information about ladder safety. The app is called “Ladder Safety” and is available for free download here.
Falling while boarding a vessel is an exceptionally dangerous situation. “Man overboard” is something that vessel and shoreside workers alike train for, but lives continue to be lost every year even despite. Merchant mariners, longshoremen, harbor workers, deckhands, pilots, and passengers can be lost under the vessel or the pier in the water within seconds. Life rings, life jackets, good lighting, access to the water’s edge, training, and situational awareness are crucial to prevent injuries and fatalities during boarding. And if the water is cold, time becomes of the essence. Hypothermia can set in quickly.
Maintenance is key in stopping injuries from boarding, gangways, ladders, and stairs. Equipment such as hinges, bolts, structural supports, hydraulics, nets, cables, and lines must be regularly inspected for defects and cleanliness. Any defects should be fixed immediately, but replacing components within their working lives using preventative maintenance is another important safety measure. Especially for vessel passengers, signage and verbal warnings may also save lives and prevent injuries.
Stairs on ships are sometimes narrow. Vessels themselves are often caused to roll underway or at the dock due to wind, waves, tide, or wake from passing vessels. While stairs on a boat may not be as comfortable as your stairs at home, they should still be safe. Common unsafe stair conditions include slippery surfaces, improper dimensions, uneven stair height, a lack of handrails, and cluttered walking spaces.
The maritime law that applies to injuries related to gangways, stairs, ladders, and boarding depends on the injured party’s status. An injured longshoreman may have a claim under the LHWCA 905(b) while an injured passenger may have a claim for negligence under maritime law. An injured commercial seaman may have a claim under the Jones Act (negligence) or general maritime law (unseaworthiness). The Jones Act requires vessel owners and operators to provide their seafarers a safe place to work. The doctrine of unseaworthiness requires the vessel and its appurtenances/crew to be fit for their intended purpose. Crewmembers injured in services of a vessel may also qualify for maintenance and cure payments to cover their overhead costs and medical expenses until they reach maximum medical improvement. An admiralty attorney can help you sort through these complex issues.
Mariner Law, PLLC understands admiralty law and on-the-job safety. The admiralty law firm is familiar with mariners, their work, and their concerns after being hurt on the water. Contact (253) 600-2531 to get assistance from a seasoned admiralty lawyer to investigate your case and obtain the compensation you deserve. You may have a claim and consultation with a firm Jones Act lawyer is always free. If the firm is able to take your case, there is no attorney fee unless you recover money. The firm proudly serves mariner clients in Washington, Oregon, New York, Connecticut, Alaska, and nationwide.