We all know how dangerous it is to combine water with electricity. In the modern marine transportation sector, however, electricity is just as important as water. As a result, the potential of maritime injury from electrical accidents has only increased for a vessel's crew.
Almost all vessels trading on the seas now require extensive electrical systems to operate safely and profitably. A ship is effectively a floating metropolis, and everything from lights and navigation systems to heavy machinery like winches, cranes, and conveyor belts requires power. A breakdown in any of these systems, however, could result in serious or even fatal electrical shock and other maritime injuries.
Electrical equipment can give shocks, ignite fires, and cause other vital equipment to fail in any context if it is not used properly, inspected for defects, subject to preventive maintenance, and timely repaired. These dangers are increased on a ship. Electrical equipment must be specially protected in the presence of water.
A generator room, which is the heart of the ship's electrical systems, is found on most modern vessels. Onboard a ship, generators provide the electricity needed to power lighting and equipment. Ships are required by international laws to include a backup generator if the main piece of equipment fails. Electricity is required for the safe operation of most ships, therefore this is a crucial precaution. Many ships have three generators to keep them compliant. Even if one fails, the ship will still have two. Any one of these generators could negligently shock a crewmember and cause injury.
The main switchboard is also found on most ships, from which engineers control many of the vessel’s systems. Lighting boards, smaller control panels, motor controls, emergency switchboards, and other key equipment controllers are all powered by the switchboard. Because the switchboard is frequently below the waterline, it is vulnerable to failure during flooding or sinking. An emergency system is often kept higher on the ship to counteract this. This is another component that can injure merchant mariners with electricity.
Electric shock is defined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration as "physical stimulation or trauma generated by the flow of electricity through the human body." It can happen when you come into contact with or are near live (energized) electrical parts. Even if there is no direct contact with electricity, an electric shock can occur. When an electric shock causes death, it is called electrocution. A burn is the most common shock-related maritime injury. Electrical shocks can be caused by a variety of factors, including:
Electrical tools with defects
Attempting electrical power connections by untrained or unqualified individuals
Electrical phasing that isn't right
Wire insulation has been damaged by hot work or other activities
Schematic designs that aren't accurate
Connectors that have corroded as a result of saltwater infiltration or contact
Electric cables that are worn or frayed
Inadequate electrical isolation
Failure to test for de-energization, and incorrect lockout/tags
Pinched electric lines in hatches/doors
Improperly grounded tools and equipment
Grinder/saw striking electric cables
Drilling into electrical cables from the wrong side
Electrical shocks can be extremely dangerous, resulting in severe bodily harm, lifelong damage, and even death. The amount of current flowing through a circuit determines the severity of a shock. The effects of a shock of one to five milliamperes of electricity range from tingling to discomfort, but they are usually not that serious. Shocks of 25 to 30 milliamperes can cause a person to lose muscle control, whereas shocks of more than 30 milliamperes may keep a person from letting go of whatever they are touching. Death is probable at 50 milliamperes and above.
Even if a shock does not cause death, it might cause serious maritime injuries. An electrical burn on the exposed skin of someone who receives a shock is not unusual. A worker can be injured by striking something, causing equipment to collapse, or falling from a walkway or stairwell due to the loss of muscle control and spasms that often accompany a shock.
The Jones Act, unseaworthiness, and other maritime laws may entitle you to compensation for medical bills, living expenses, and money damages if your shock injuries were caused by the negligence of a vessel or crew.
To schedule a consultation appointment with an experienced maritime injury attorney, contact the Mariner Law, PLLC. An offshore lawyer can go over the facts of your case with you, answer any questions you might have, and discuss your options. If a loved one perished in an electric shock accident while working as a maritime employee, you might be entitled to damages under federal maritime law for wrongful death. Call to discuss your options with a Jones Act lawyer: (253) 600-2531. The firm proudly serves mariner clients in Washington, Oregon, New York, Connecticut, Alaska, and nationwide.