Safe electrical equipment aboard ships is of utmost importance. Without it, a ship will quickly be in trouble. Proper design, maintenance, and repair are all critical in maintaining a safe ship. The generator room supplies electricity and power to all aspects of the ship and powers the lighting network, navigation system, winches and conveyor belts, fishing equipment, radios, and other vital systems. Due to the crucial role of the generator room, international regulations require ships to be built with a backup generator.
The main switchboard is also powered by the generator. It is where workers operate various functions of the ship and its power systems, such as lighting, motor controls, and emergency switchboards. Generally, the main switchboard is located below the waterline on a ship. This puts it at risk in the event of failure if a flood or crash occurs. That is why certain controls and emergency systems are kept on higher elevations on a ship.
Risks from Electrical System Failures
The combination of electricity and water can be deadly. Minerals dissolved in water make it an electrical conductor. An electric current in contact with water will travel along its path. Since ships are surrounded by water, it is especially important to be sure proper precautions are taken to prevent electric system failures in the maritime setting. A live wire in contact with a wet floor will shock everyone in contact with the floor.
Injuries from exposure to electricity can range from minor to fatal. Injuries vary depending on the amount of current running through the circuit, which include:
- Exposure to a minor current can cause tingling and minimal pain.
- A moderate current can cause loss of muscle control, involuntary muscle contractions, and respiratory arrest.
- Contact with a major current can cause nerve damage or a heart attack and can even be fatal.
Injuries from contact with electricity is only part of the problem. If loss of muscle control happens from exposure to an electrical current, then slip and falls are likely. These can result in a range of injuries from minor contusions to broken bones. If the shocked individual falls into the sea, then drowning becomes a serious risk.
Electrical fires can also occur on ships. An unintended current, also called a short, can lead to a fire. A short can happen, for example, if damaged insulation creates a low-resistance path between a live wire and its surroundings. Shorts can cause very large current flows, which can heat up enough to ignite insulation and any nearby combustible materials.
Electrical fires will expose all nearby to smoke and heat and can cause burns and death. If the fire causes electrical system failures, then further hazards may arise. Loss of lighting can cause falls and failure to properly operate critical equipment. Loss of navigational capabilities can result in a crash.
Protecting Electricians on Ships
Avoiding electrical problems requires trained electricians to properly inspect, maintain, and work on electrical equipment. Examples of electrical hazards include:
- Improper or no grounding of tools or equipment
- Worn or frayed electrical cables
- Pinched cables caught in hatches/doors
- Improper electrical phasing
- Corroded connectors from salt water intrusion or contact
- Failed efforts to de-energize and conduct lockout/tagout procedures when performing repair work
Applicable Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards apply to electricians working on ships. Generally, an adequate hazard assessment is required before doing work. Proper selection and use of personal protective equipment (PPE) is required to protect against identified hazards. For electrical work, circuits must be de-energized correctly by opening the circuit breaker or removing the fuse and properly tagging it until work is complete.
Tagging out of equipment is necessary so that others will not inadvertently reenergize the system. Ships can have large and complex machinery with multiple power sources. It can be difficult to identify all energy sources. For this reason, engineering drawings and schematics should be accurate and up to date to enable de-energizing and lockout/tagout procedures to work.
Cape May Maritime Lawyers at Freedman & Lorry, P.C. Advocate for the Safety of Maritime Workers
If you or someone you know was injured from electrical problems or other hazards aboard a ship, contact one of our experienced Cape May maritime lawyers at Freedman & Lorry, P.C. We will fight to hold the negligent party accountable for your injuries and obtain the compensation you deserve. Call us at 888-999-1962 or submit an online form to schedule a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia, Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and Pinehurst, North Carolina, we serve clients throughout South Jersey, including Cape May and Wildwood.