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Sailors and Seamen: What They Do and Common Injuries

Seaman and sailors are the working “lifeblood” of any ship or vessel. Their job description is as varied as the size and type of ship or vessel that they are deployed on. They perform a variety of tasks to preserve the painted surfaces on the ship, maintain running and cargo handling equipment and gear, and oil and grease moving parts of engines and auxiliary equipment.

Seamen are responsible for maintaining and operating emergency lifeboats. They handle lines used to moor the vessel to wharves, piers and docks as well as tying up two vessels together and rigging towing lines. They are members of the shipboard firefighting team. They load and unload any cargo and supplies necessary for the maintenance of both the ship as well as its crew. They stand bridge and bridge wing watches while underway. Ordinary and able bodied seamen also man the wheel while observing the shipboard compass to maintain the ship's course when underway.

The potential for injury is significant and the injuries can range from either relatively minor (abrasions, bruises, and minor lacerations) to serious and even life-threatening or lethal injuries. Sailors frequently use sharp and pointed objects (marlin spikes, long single-edged knives, wire and cable cutters, etc.) during the performance of their shipboard duties. Being crushed by moving cargo, getting caught in either mooring lines or cargo handling lines is always a present threat. The movement of the ship (listing) due to the ocean also presents the danger of either being thrown against bulkheads, falling down ladders or even being thrown overboard.

Safety standards are overseen and enforced by a number of groups and agencies, including the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Additionally, both the Law of the Sea as well as Admiralty Law provide for the medical treatment of seamen who are injured or become ill while aboard ship. Workmen's compensation laws are applicable as well in case a seaman is disabled. The amount and duration of the disability compensation is generally proportional to the extent and duration of the disability. Typically, the greater the disability is and the longer it lasts, the greater and longer the seaman will receive those disability compensation payments. In order to preserve their rights and to secure their capacity to seek legal action against their employer or the owner of the vessel, a seaman who becomes disabled due to either injury or illness while performing their duties would be well-advised to seek counsel from an attorney.

Longshore & Harbor Workers Compensation Act (LHWCA)

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Defense Base Act
The Frequently Asked Questions

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