Shipyard Accidents along Mississippi’s Gulf Coast
According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), the shipyard industry has an injury and accident rate that is twice as high as that of general industry and construction industry. No one needs to tell you that shipyard work is dangerous if you work in the industry. Even so, your employer has a legal and moral obligation to make working conditions as safe as possible for everyone. Sadly, this doesn’t always happen.
As Politico Magazine reports, it’s common practice for ship builders that rely on contracts from the Coast Guard and Navy to remain profitable to put money ahead of worker safety. The online publication further states that 76 people lost their lives in shipyard accidents between 2005 and 2015. Approximately 25 percent of the cases involved private shipyards that had received a government contract. Things could get worse under the Trump administration since he announced plans to increase the Navy’s fleet from 274 to 350 ships his first week in office. While a super-sized fleet means more profit, it also makes worker safety even more precarious.
The Navy does not have other alternatives to getting its ships built. Due to international safety concerns, it can only work with American companies. These shipyards provide relatively high-paying jobs without requiring a college degree, so many workers feel they have no choice but to work in unsafe conditions. In fact, one person quoted in Politico’s article reported that his supervisor threatened to fire him because he refused to work without a fan when he would be inhaling heavy paint fumes.
OSHA’s Safety and Health Guidelines for the Shipyard Industry
Each state, including Mississippi, has the freedom to create safety standards for the shipyard industry. OSHA recommended the following elements after consulting with The Maritime Advisory Committee for Occupational Safety and Health:
- Basic commitment of leadership and management: This involves establishing a culture and workplace policy on health and safety in a shipyard environment. It also defines the responsibilities of supervisors and other employees regarding health and safety management in the workplace. Lastly, this element requires adequate resources and appropriate authority to implement.
- Full participation of shipyard employees: All employees of the shipyard should have the opportunity to recommend and evaluate health and safety guidelines. This includes ship superintendents, managers, supervisors, crane operators, foremen, welders, ship fitters, maintenance personnel, engineers, human resources, healthcare professionals, and procurement workers.
- Identification, assessment, and control of hazards: Identifying serious hazards at a shipyard requires regular physical inspections, review of current health and safety standards, evaluation of serious hazards not defined by OSHA, and input from frontline employees and supervisors. Once identified and assessed, superiors must remove hazards as soon as possible. If not immediately, employees must have protections in place for their health and safety. Supervisors then need to assume responsibility for monitoring the removal process until the identified hazard is no longer an issue.
- Ongoing training: Every employee with the potential for exposure to hazardous materials or working conditions should receive effective training in minimizing their risk. They should also receive adequate training so they can carry out their duties in the safest manner possible. Training should cover how to recognize hazards, discuss what the employer is currently doing to mitigate hazards, provide protective measures, instruct employees on procedures to follow in an emergency, and provide employees with the opportunity to participate in a formal health and safety program. Additional training sessions should occur as employees identify new hazards or emergency procedures change.
- Evaluation: Employers should demonstrate the effectiveness of their health and safety program whenever requested to do so. This includes reviewing injury and illness reports and safety committee reports, workers’ compensation claims, and analysis of productivity in current working conditions.
- Accurate recordkeeping: Employers should use baseline data and annual updates to evaluate the effectiveness of their health and safety programs. They need to maintain records in an organized and consistent manner to identify which hazards require further control and highlight effectiveness of the current program in reducing shipyard fatalities, injuries, and serious illnesses.
- Separate procedures for workplaces with multiple employers: It is essential that multi-employer workplaces require host and contract employees to exchange information on safety rules, workplace hazards, and emergency procedures.
Common Injuries Among Shipyard Workers
After a review of the safety violations and worker death and injuries at the top seven ship builders with Coast Guard or Navy contracts, Politico reported the following occurred most frequently:
- Foot amputation
- Electrical shock resulting in death
- Crane collision and/or tip-over
- Falls due to a lack of secure guard rails
- Workers crushed by suspended loads
- Lung diseases, including cancer, due to inhalation of paint and other dangerous fumes
- Explosions and fires
This is bad enough, but the situation gets worse. These worker injuries, deaths, and OSHA citations have not prevented major ship builders from acquiring federal contracts for ship building and repair. Not only have shipyard workers died and suffered debilitating injuries, the government essentially looked the other way and didn’t hold these companies responsible for health and safety violations. If you have sustained a serious injury in a shipyard accident or lost a loved one who worked in the shipyard industry, Gardner Law Firm is on your side.
Trust Your Case to an Experienced Maritime Litigation Attorney
Gardner Law Firm has extensive knowledge of Mississippi maritime laws. He cares deeply about the workers who make their living along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. As you recover from your injuries, you may experience further difficulties when your employer refuses to accept responsibility for your accident. You could find your workers’ compensation claim denied or face threats of losing your job, demotion, or hostility once you return to work. Although these things shouldn’t happen, shipyard employers depend on people needing their jobs too badly to speak up for themselves.
Gardner Law Firm draws on his experience and resources to bring a personal injury lawsuit against the party responsible for your injuries. This isn’t always easy to determine and requires a fair amount of research. You could receive financial compensation to cover your medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and more. Please contact Gardner Law Firm for a complementary review of your case today.