Loss of Limbs and the Maritime Industry Laws

It sounds horrifying, but those who work in the maritime industry do tend to encounter conditions and incidents in which loss of limb is not unusual. From crushing injuries sustained when cargo or gear falls on a worker, to exposure to freezing conditions and subsequent amputation, it is possible for almost any maritime workers to find themselves dealing with an injury that leads to the loss of a limb or limbs. This is hardly a minor issue and can require lifelong care. (Limb Loss Task Force/Amputee Coalition, 2012)

It is important to remember that even though the industry is viewed as high risk and prone to incidents that take the limbs of workers, it is not a risk any worker must accept or just assume as a realistic part of their job. There are many laws and safety regulations designed specifically to prevent these situations from arising, and laws that are in place should an injury occur that should have been prevented.

Maritime employers must adhere to specific safety standards at the federal and the industry levels. There are OSHA guidelines and there are specific laws that provide workers with protections even after incidents have occurred and led to such grave injuries as loss of limbs.

Can Loss of Limb Really Be Prevented?

Many laws are in place to preserve the safety of workers and reduce the threat of accidents. For example, if someone is injured and they lose limbs, there is bound to be an investigation into the accident, and it will not look only at the actual reason for the loss of limb (such as a winch causing the loss of several digits or even a hand), but why that scenario played out. For instance, why was the worker using the gear in that way? What was going on at the moment the incident occurred? Were all industry safety protocols in place?

It is not unusual for an incident to occur that leads to loss of limb and yet it could have been avoided had the employer made sure that:

  • All of the employees were fully trained and frequently checked for being in compliance with all safety procedures, gear, and equipment.
  • All equipment was fully functional and any problems properly dealt with once discovered.
  • Navigation was planned properly to reduce risks and threats to crew and the vessel.
  • Adequate protections were in place to reduce the risk of injury – such as a heated shelter in cold conditions, time off to prevent exhaustion, and even safety cables, etc. to prevent someone falling overboard – were in place.

Arguing that a crewmember lost their limb because they were careless is not likely to eliminate the employer from being considered negligent if they did not provide that same crewmember with training in all areas of safety and operation of the gear. There are many cases of loss of limb that can appear simple and yet a close look shows it to be the result of a negligent employer or vessel owner, or another party that should be held accountable.

Clearly, recovering from loss of limb is enough of a struggle without also enduring the hardship of legal battles. This is why the best course of action to follow, should you or a loved one lose a limb, is to get in touch with a maritime lawyer or attorney. Be sure they have experience in this area of the law and it is likely that they will be able to help you pursue your case. Though working in almost any sort of maritime setting does come with certain risks, there is no reason for an employer or vessel owner to knowingly put people at risk. They are obliged to provide safety standards and to protect everyone on board to the greatest extent possible. If they failed in this duty and you were injured, you must pursue it through the legal system.