If you have been injured while working offshore and have been reading up on your rights under the Jones Act, you may be unsure if your injuries were caused by the negligence of your employer, the unseaworthiness of the vessel where you were working at the time of the accident, or just plain “bad luck.” In the seconds it takes for an accident to happen, it can be very hard to figure out what happened at all—just that someone who was up and working a moment ago got seriously hurt as a result.
However, although it may not seem to matter how an accident happened, it is important to determine the cause. There are many ways that employers can prevent accidents and injury at sea, and seamen can hold those employers financially responsible for their medical care and expenses if they contributed to an injury.
Common Causes of Injuries on Vessels, Drilling Rigs, and Other Offshore Environments
There are many different ways that workers get hurt at sea, but the root causes usually boil down to:
- Employer negligence. Working on the water is a dangerous job, whether it’s near the coast or in 50-foot seas. While most people understand that it’s a risky industry, employers still have a duty to make sure that workers are reasonably safe while they do their jobs. “Negligence” has to do with what your employer did (or failed to do) that led to your injury. The decisions an employer makes can affect the safety of every man and woman working on a vessel or rig, even when it isn’t directly obvious how their choices might have an impact. A crew’s safety can hinge on even small decisions about how relevant warnings are distributed, how potential problems are reported and addressed, what routes are taken, or how often vessels and equipment are inspected and maintained. Under the Jones Act, when employers make decisions that put profits or convenience over the safety of the men and women they employ, the workers affected may have the right to hold those companies financially responsible for their injuries and losses.
- Captain and crewmember negligence. The decisions that captains and crewmembers make can also have a big impact on how safe seamen are at work. If a captain decides to ignore important warnings, or if a crewmember is unqualified to do the work or becomes violent, it can create the conditions for very serious accidents and injuries. While they can’t always predict what people will do, companies have a responsibility to adequately screen, train, and supervise employees to avoid potential problems. If they fail to do so, then the workers who get hurt may be able to file a Jones Act claim and get payment for their expenses related to an injury.
- Unseaworthiness of vessel. “Unseaworthiness” has to do with the state of the vessel itself. Employers are responsible for making sure the vessels they operate are seaworthy. This might mean that they been properly maintained, have enough trained crewmembers to adequately operate the vessel in expected conditions, are safe for employees, and are functioning correctly. Vessels that don’t meet these standards can be dangerous for workers and cause accidents—even when workers performed at the very best of their abilities.
- Unsafe working conditions. Beyond issues with the vessel itself, the conditions seamen must work in can contribute to accidents. This is especially the case when employers cut corners on safety to save money, putting workers in danger. Leaks that are allowed to leave slippery puddles, unlit stairways, malfunctioning equipment that isn’t repaired, long shifts in cramped workspaces, and even coworkers who haven’t been screened before hire can all contribute to unsafe conditions and tragic accidents.
- Safety policies or procedures not followed. There are the safety rules on the books, and then there are the safety rules that are actually followed in practice. In offshore workplaces, workers can be put under pressure to skip steps or ignore the policies and procedures designed to keep them safe. Safety rules exist for a reason. When those standards aren’t followed carefully, it’s no wonder that people get hurt or killed as a result.
- Lack of training and improper training. Of course, employees can’t do their jobs safely if they haven’t been trained. Companies must make sure that all employees get adequate training on job duties, safety procedures, and other important issues. If employees don’t know what they’re doing or how to do it right, accidents and injuries are almost inevitable on most vessels, tugboats, and drilling rigs.
- Equipment malfunctions, defective equipment, and improper use or storage of equipment. If the equipment isn’t maintained or inspected, there’s no way to know that it will work right or work safely when it’s used. If it isn’t stored or secured correctly, then it could be a threat to workers. When faulty or potentially dangerous equipment is reported, employers need to take action to address the problem before someone gets hurt—and they should also be checking up on equipment every so often to prevent potential injuries.
- Worker fatigue. Tired workers cause accidents. They aren’t able to focus on their jobs or react as quickly when something goes wrong. Although the seamen in this situation often blame themselves, the truth is that employers can prevent some accidents related to fatigue. A lot of workers on vessels and rigs are scheduled on long shifts, often with very little time to sleep or rest in between. Employers who create these schedules should be aware that they’re creating the perfect conditions for a serious accident.
- Inclement weather. Unpredictable weather often plays a big part in accidents and injuries. Sometimes, injuries from bad weather are just bad luck. However, while employers can’t always predict exactly what the weather will be, they can take steps to plan for the possibility of adverse weather and have policies in place for reacting to unexpected conditions. Employers need to think about safety at sea and provide safety equipment and emergency protocols to deal with issues like slick walkways, high winds, rough waters, extreme temperatures, weather-affected equipment, and other conditions.
Ultimately, there are a lot of reasons why accidents happen and seamen get hurt. The question of whether an employer is liable for an injury and must pay an injured seaman benefits often comes down to whether or not that accident—regardless of what happened—could have been prevented with appropriate care.
Examples of Preventable Accidents and Injuries
Unfortunately, there are so many things that can wrong in the dangerous work environments on vessels and drilling rigs that it’s not always easy to tell what went wrong or who was responsible. In fact, multiple issues could contribute to a seaman’s injury. Sometimes, all workers see is the symptoms of these conditions, such as:
- Slips and falls on ladders, stairs, decks
- Crane accidents
- Accidents involving mooring lines, drilling pipe, or falling equipment
- Injuries caused by improper lifting, loading, hauling, or throwing of heavy equipment
- Fires and explosions
- Problems during personnel transport to and from the workplace
Is Your Employer Responsible for Your Injury at Sea?
If you have been injured while working offshore, you may have rights to compensation under the Jones Act and other laws that cover seamen. Whether you work in a brown-water environment or in international waters, it is likely that you are protected by the law when you are hurt at work. While you may not have access to the same kind of workers’ compensation available to those who work on land, it may be possible to recover the costs of your medical treatment and hold your employer responsible for failing to make safety a priority. If you have questions, or if you’re ready to start investigating your case with our experienced attorneys, reach out to us at 877-724-7800.