Maritime Accidents

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The Problem with Drunk Boating

Drunk driving is a well known problem in the United States. The dangers of getting in a car and driving while intoxicated are very real and very serious. Those same dangers apply to driving other types of vehicles while intoxicated, including boats.

The Problem of Drunk Boating

According to the United States Coast Guard, alcohol is the leading factor in fatal recreational boating accidents in the United States. In 2007 alone, drunk boating caused 391 known recreational boating accidents, 145 known deaths and 341 known injuries.

The problem is not limited to that of recreational boaters. Professional captains and crews may also engage in alcohol or drug use that poses a significant risk to public safety. All of the risks of driving a car while under the influence of alcohol or drugs are present when a boat is operated under the influence of alcohol or drugs. However, boats are less stable and more difficult to maneuver then many of the vehicles on our roadways. Further, there is a significant risk of drowning which is not present on the roads. These factors make drunk boating particularly dangerous.

The Responsibility of Employers

The federal government requires that maritime employers take appropriate steps to screen potential employees for drug and alcohol abuse and to periodically test for drugs and alcohol.

Each qualifying maritime employer must have a plan in place to test and screen prospective and existing employees for drug and alcohol use. The records must be maintained for a period of 1-5 years and reported to the US Coast Guard as required by law. Prospective employees must be screened prior to beginning work in a safety sensitive position and the results of that screening must be kept for the duration of that employee's tenure with the maritime employer.

Additionally, each year, the maritime employer is required to conduct random testing of at least 50% of its employees who are required to be tested. The random testing must be done according to a statistically based method and must be spread out over the course of 12 calendar months.

Testing is also required in every case where there is reasonable cause to believe that an employee is operating under the influence of drugs or alcohol while conducting the responsibilities of his or her job or when a serious maritime accident has occurred. Therefore, maritime employers must have drug and alcohol testing equipment on board each vessel in order to complete the required testing.

Employers are in a unique position to limit the number of maritime accidents that occur because of alcohol and drug use. Therefore, the safety provisions described above should be strictly adhered to in order to protect employees and the public.

Longshore & Harbor Workers Compensation Act (LHWCA)

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