Maritime Accident?

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Drowning and Maritime Laws

Working in the maritime industry automatically puts workers in harm’s way, due to the somewhat unpredictable nature of the waters, weather, and even problems with vessels that can lead to sinking or full vessel loss. However, it would seem that our modern era would be one in which working in the maritime industry is safer than ever before. Advanced radar and weather systems make it easy to avoid the riskiest conditions, and a long list of laws and rules ensure that workers are in the best situations possible.

Sadly, even with comprehensive regulations throughout the industry, as well as those passed down from government agencies such as OSHA, there are still many fatal drowning incidents each and every year. It might be easy to believe these are just rare instances, but there are a surprising number of maritime industry drowning accidents and deaths on an annual basis.

Why Does This Still Happen and What Can I Do about It?

To understand how they happen, you need to consider a few factors. There are truly unpredictable incidents that can lead to the drowning deaths of seamen. Boat accidents, unexpected weather conditions, rogue waves, and other problems that leave no one to blame can and do occur. However, a majority of incidents are due to improper training, or inadequate precaution and safety on the parts of the employers.

Consider one somewhat recent case in Florida as an ideal example. In it, an underwater worker perished while helping to construct an artificial barrier reef. After a six-month investigation by OSHA, it was determined that the employer had failed to implement 22 federal workplace safety standards. The findings pointed out that workers did not have proper training or equipment when they went beneath the water. (Dunning, 2014)

This tells us, that many drowning’s in the maritime industry are not accidental, but are instead entirely preventable. Looking through various OSHA reports would point that many “standards and control measures” are not being properly applied. Among the most commonly cited are:

  • No PFDs or personal flotation devices are available or in use, and in some cases they may be available but out of date and below standards.
  • No random safety checks
  • Failure to create and implement written safety programs that prevent problems leading to accident and/or drowning
  • No “buddy system” preventing workers from doing risky tasks unaccompanied or unobserved
  • Too many work hours that leads to fatigue
  • Slipping, falling or tripping accidents that may have been avoidable with better protocol and equipment procedures
  • Failure by the employer to ensure access (in and out) of any vessel

In most cases, it is employer negligence that leads to the problems above, and in that way the employers can often have prevented drowning deaths. Whether they fail to properly equip vessels or use the highest safety standards, any such failing is viewed as punishable under maritime law.

The Jones Act

Whether a seaman is working on a boat, beneath the waters, or onshore in a maritime capacity, it is the employer’s primary obligation to keep that worker safe by implementing all-federal and industry safety standards. Any failure to do so, and one that leads to accident or drowning, is negligence punishable by law.

The Jones Act exists to ensure that negligent employers are obliged to compensate those injured, or their surviving dependents. Those not covered by the Jones Act (such as dockers, ship fitters, longshore workers, and their surviving dependents) are still protected under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Act section regarding drowning’s and negligent employers.

If a loved one perished in a maritime drowning, and it was due (in part or in whole) to the negligence of their employers, there are laws to protect your rights. Speak with a qualified maritime attorney or lawyer to understand this complex area of the law and to make sure you are properly compensated for such a catastrophic loss.