Maritime Law Overview
Seaman's Information Regarding Maritime Injury
While on the water, people find themselves in situations that could end in accident or injury.
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Drowning is a real risk of working at sea. Whether you are a commercial fisherman, an oil rig worker or member of the crew on a cruise ship, you are at risk of drowning. In order to prevent these types of fatal accidents, each employer has a responsibility to take precautions to prevent drowning accidents.
The US Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) requires that certain precautions be taken if there is a chance that an employee could fall into the water. Those precautions include:
- Personal Flotation Devices: personal flotation devices, such as life jackets, life preservers and life vests are required for all employees who are at risk of falling into the water. This includes employees who work near unguarded edges of watercraft, who are boarding or leaving boats or who work on floats. The personal flotation devices must be approved by the US Coast Guard for occupational use. So, for example, a life jacket that is approved for recreational boating or water sports would not be appropriate. The personal flotation devices must be inspected before every single use and may not be used if they are found to be in any way defective.
- Life Ring Buoys: like personal flotation devices, life ring buoys must be approved by the US Coast Guard for occupational use. They must be 30 inches in diameter and have 90 feet of line attached to them. A floating vessel of 200 feet or more in length must have at least three life ring buoys on the vessel at all times. Vessels that are shorter than 200 feet are only required to have one life ring buoy. Life ring buoys must also be located at each staging on a floating vessel.
- Ladders: Each floating vessel must have at least one ladder that is long enough to help people who fall into the water.
Different types of vessels may also be required to be built in such a way to make falls and potential drowning accidents less likely to happen. For example, guardrails may be required.
Further, employers should be aware of the natural limitation of workers. Workers who are required to work long shifts or too many consecutive shifts may be more tired and more apt to be in an accident. Workers should not work alone if there is a danger of drowning as quick help from another crew member could be life saving.
If employers fail to take the precautions described above or fail to exercise reasonable care in protecting seamen from the dangers of drowning then the employer's negligence may have caused or contributed to the seaman's death and the seamen's family may be able to recover damages pursuant to federal maritime law.