Four Lifting Accidents
Crewmen are frequently injured aboard ship doing tasks involving excessive lifting of equipment, product, and cargo. Almost all lifting accidents are preventable if proper safety precautions are taken. Crewmen injured in lifting accidents are entitled to damages under the Jones Act and the general maritime law, even if the lifting accident aboard ship aggravates a preexisting medical condition in a seaman's back, such as degenerative disc disease.
Lifting Case History One: Jozef was a 42-year-old fish processor who injured his back in the hold of a head and gut fish processing vessel during a vessel offload. Each bag of frozen fish weighed 37 pounds. Thousands of bags are placed in the vessel hold, stacked from floor to ceiling. During offload of the vessel, a hole is dug into the cargo stack, and crewmen may work 18-24 hours in a day offloading the cargo to the dock or a freighter. During this offload procedure, the crewmen walk repeatedly across the top of the frozen cargo bags as they remove each layer of the cargo. Onboard this ship, broken bags were repaired with freezer tape and placed in the fish hold, along with the undamaged bags. Excessive tape was used to repair the broken bags.
Scientific testing of the tape showed the tape on the bags to be excessively slippery. Jozef stepped on the excessive tape on a damaged bag, causing him to slip and fall in the hold of the vessel. He was carrying a 37-pound bag of frozen fish product at the time, which, combined with the dangerous walking surface, caused him to fall. The combination of lifting and carrying the cargo over an uneven and slippery surface was the cause of a herniated disc. He underwent a micro-diskectomy surgery for a large bulging disc. Following physical completion of physical therapy, a physical capacity evaluation indicated Jozef would be limited to light-to-medium duty in the future. Jozef's case was tried to a verdict, and he was awarded $320,000.
Lifting Case History Two: R.O. was a deck boss on a fish processing vessel in Alaska. During vessel offload, he was helping in the hold of the vessel when he suffered a herniated disc in his back. The crew of this vessel was encouraged to work as fast as possible during offload, and crewmen were encouraged to carry two bags of frozen fish product at time. Our maritime injury attorney claimed the repeated lifting and carrying of excessive weight caused R.O.'s. back to be injured. It is imperative in such cases to establish safe lifting standards, and to investigate alternate means of moving vessel cargo out of the holds, such as via pallets and conveyors where possible.
Simply slowing down and frequently rotating the crew in the hold can prevent many cargo lifting accidents. While there are no specific regulations limiting the amount of weight a crewman can safely lift, there are numerous industry standards relating to permissible safe lifting limits. Expert testimony from medical doctors and safety experts is often needed to prove what is common sense: Lifting excessive weights repeatedly can lead to injury of your back.
Lifting Case History Three: John was injured while working in the fish meal plant of a factory trawler. John's job was to fill and lift bags of fish meal weighing 67 pounds. This required him to lift the bags from floor to overhead. Utilizing ergonomics experts, Stacey & Jacobsen, PLLC established 67 pounds as being an excessive weight for a crewman to repeatedly lift. Many fishing boats have reduced the size of their fish meal bags to prevent back injuries to their crewmen.
Other companies persist in using the heavier 67 pound bags to satisfy their customers' needs, and retain the risk of injury to their crewman. The vessel operator and the seaman's employer have the duty to train their crewmen in proper lifting techniques, and to minimize the risk of back injury by reasonable safe procedures to limit repetitive and excessive lifting.
Lifting Case History Four: Crab boat deckhands are frequently injured while pushing crab pots across the decks of their vessel. In general, this is a two man job, or a task that should be done only with the assistance of a crane. Moving an 800 pound crab pot across a frozen deck in 15 to 20 foot seas is not an easy or safe task under the best of conditions. Although this is a common practice, it is not a safe practice, and it has resulted in many injuries to deckhands.
F.B. was injured while trying pushing a crab pot into place. A broken deck board caused the pot to fall over onto his foot, fracturing all the bones through the arch of his foot. F.B.'s accident could have been easily prevented by keeping the deck properly repaired, and by utilizing the ship's crane to assist in moving the crab pot into position. Crab pots should never be left unattended or unsecured on the deck of a boat at sea. F.B.'s case settled for $500,000.
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