Common Types of Maritime Injuries

Author
Alicia Betz
June 8, 2021

Anybody who has ever worked a maritime job or even seen an episode of The Deadliest Catch knows that jobs in the open water can be dangerous. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), “This occupation is characterized by strenuous work, long hours, seasonal employment, and some of the most hazardous conditions in the workforce.” 

What you might not know is that maritime injuries can even happen on land. This is because of legislation like the Jones Act, which says that maritime injuries can happen on land if they are due to a vessel on navigable waters. 

Maritime injuries range from mild—like a laceration or bruise—to life-threatening like drowning. Here, we examine common types of maritime injuries as well as their common causes.

Maritime Injuries

Maritime injuries are unfortunately very common. Learn about some of the most common maritime injuries below.

Overuse Injuries

Whether they’re casting out fishing nets or constantly pushing and pulling equipment, maritime workers are prone to overuse injuries. These are also called repetitive motion injuries and commonly occur in the hands, elbows, wrists, arms, shoulders, neck, back, and other joints. Repetitive motion injuries can even occur due to vibration from tools and equipment.

Broken Bones and Fractures

Also called a fracture, seamen often face broken bones due to falls or accidents with equipment. A broken bone may lead to extended time off work while the injury heals.

Contusions

Contusion is the medical term for a bruise. These types of injuries are relatively benign compared to other possible maritime injuries, but they are an injury nonetheless. Bruises are a common injury and likely underreported since most people simply go on with their day after getting a bruise.

Scrapes and Lacerations

Cuts sustained on a vessel can be mild like scrapes, or they can be severe lacerations usually sustained from equipment on the ship. If left untreated, even minor cuts can become infected.

Concussions and Head Injuries

Concussions and head injuries are common on vessels due to the heavy machinery and equipment as well as the high chance of falls.

Amputation or Lost Limbs

Unfortunately, accidents on vessels sometimes result in limb amputation. Sometimes a limb is instantly lost in an accident, and other times a limb needs to be amputated later due to complications from an injury.

Neck and Back Injuries

Neck and back injuries can include broken bones, overuse injuries, or muscle injuries. This can happen during a fall or an accident with equipment. Back injuries are also common when lifting heavy items.

Burns

There are a variety of ways maritime workers can get burn injuries on a vessel. Common types of burns include chemical burns, electrical burns, and severe sunburns. Workers have also been known to get a burn from touching a hot piece of equipment. Seamen may also get burned if a fire breaks out on a ship; they may be trapped in a small space or might get burned trying to put out the fire.

Electrical Injuries

Electrical injuries on vessels can include burns as well as electric shock. The risk of electricity is heightened due to the constant presence of water on ships.

Sprains and Strains

Sprains and strains can happen in any body part and are particularly devastating in the back. With intense manual labor required on ships, these injuries can happen on virtually any body part. According to the BLS, one-third of injuries to fishers are sprains and strains.

Asphyxia

There are many enclosed places on ships that are dangerous for workers. When in an enclosed space without proper ventilation for too long, maritime workers can be deprived of oxygen.

Causes of Maritime Injuries

Some causes of maritime injuries might seem obvious—such as falling overboard. Others, however, might surprise you.

Falling Overboard

Vessels at sea are extremely slippery, and they’re constantly moving. Even with proper training and gear, it’s easy to lose your footing and fall overboard. When a ship is docked, falling overboard accidents happen as well and in this case, can result in being trapped between vessels or between a vessel and the dock. Falling overboard in the open ocean can quickly lead to hypothermia or drowning. 

Slipping and Falling 

Slips and falls that don’t result in falling overboard are common and can be dangerous as well. Workers might slip on a wet deck or trip over materials. They are also often asked to perform heavy labor while on the slippery surface, increasing the chance of dangerous falls. Hitting the deck with enough force can result in severe injuries such as broken bones or head trauma. Slips and falls are also the cause of minor injuries like bruises. 

Enclosed Spaces

Ships only have so much room, which often results in small, cluttered, enclosed spaces. When staying in an enclosed space for too long, workers can breathe in harmful fumes and gasses. They can also become low on oxygen. 

Negligence

Unfortunately, negligence is a contributing factor to many maritime injuries. This might include supervisors who send seamen out to work in dangerous conditions, coworkers who were not vigilant, or equipment that does not meet safety standards. Injuries can even happen due to your own negligence; maritime work requires constant alertness. 

Poor Training 

When seamen aren’t properly trained on how to do their job safely, injuries can occur. Training should be thorough and ongoing to prevent injury. 

Exhaustion

While out at sea, maritime workers are performing intense manual labor while getting very few breaks. They often work long hours and can be at sea for months at a time. When you’re exhausted, you can’t think clearly, and minor mistakes can result in devastating injury. 

Being Crushed 

Heavy equipment, large shipping containers, and other objects can fall or be mishandled, leading to crushing injuries. 

Sinking or Capsizing Vessel

A sinking or capsizing vessel can lead to many injuries, the most obvious of which is drowning. Any time a vessel is out on the water, sinking is a possibility. According to the BLS, 53% of fatal fishing injuries are the result of capsizing vessels. 

Poor Weather and Water Conditions 

On perfectly calm waters, injuries aboard vessels are likely less common. When the water gets rough and the weather gets bad, ships rock, decks get slippery, communication becomes difficult, and injuries are more likely to occur. 

Getting Tangled in Nets or Equipment 

Fishing nets and other equipment can entangle maritime workers. When this happens, their bodies may twist unnaturally, they may be unintentionally thrown overboard, or they may get stuck in a dangerous spot. 

What to Do If You Get a Maritime Injury

It’s very common for maritime workers to get injured on the job. These injuries are sometimes made worse due to a lack of adequate medical care. Injuries at sea happen far from proper medical facilities, and workers tend to get back on the job before getting properly checked. 

Maritime injuries are common, but many of them can be prevented with proper training and safety equipment. If you have been injured on the job as a maritime worker, it’s important to seek medical care and to get justice for your injuries

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We are here to help you and loved ones advocate for justice. Feel free to send us any questions you might have, either about an injury or the process for pursuing justice so we can help you exercise your rights.

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