Shipbuilding involves a vast number of discrete steps, many of which pose serious health and safety hazards to its workers. Some of the work is done remotely in plants, while other work is done at a dry dock onboard. Among the many workers involved in shipbuilding, most include:

  • Metal fabricators: Workers make large pieces of structural component parts using metal working equipment
  • Outfitters: Workers install large-scale machinery, such as engines
  • Electricians: Workers provide wiring and power throughout the ship
  • Carpenters: Workers install floors, walls, and cabinets
  • Surface preparers: Workers strip, scale, electroplate, or paint the surface of the vessel
  • Welders: Workers join metal to form hulls and other ship components
  • Steamfitters: Workers insulate pipes and boiler room equipment

Often, there are different craftsmen working side-by-side risking cross-exposure to various hazards and potentially creating intensified hazards from the interaction of the materials being used. One tragic accident illustrates the point. In a shipyard in Mississippi, a worker felt ill from a chemical odor. When he looked for the source, he witnessed two men working in the hull below, wiping down steel boxes with paint thinner. He tried to warn them that the fumes were excessive and to get out. The warning came too late when the solvent reached explosive concentrations. A fireball erupted, killing the two men inside the hull and injuring the witness.

Shipbuilders can be overexposed to solvents and other chemicals, or risk being electrocuted from live wires, burned from fires, or asphyxiated from using solvents, paints, or welding equipment in confined spaces. Long term exposure to noise can result in permanent hearing loss. Inhalation of friable asbestos insulation can lead to asbestosis or lung cancer.

Due to the complexity of the work involved, and the close quarters in which the work must be performed, shipbuilding can be very dangerous. In a recent 10-year period, 76 people died in the private shipbuilding and repair industry. Shipbuilders face a much higher chance of injury and illness than construction workers. Adequate training and experience, personal protective equipment, and workplace monitoring are all needed to provide the necessary protection to keep ship-based workers from being injured or killed on the job.

OSHA Standards Apply

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has several standards that apply to those working in shipbuilding. They include safety standards for working in confined spaces, using adequate personal protective equipment when handling chemicals, and more. Most shipbuilding activities are covered, however, there are a few notable exceptions. OSHA standards do not cover:

  • Federal, state, and local government employees
  • Self-employed workers, independent contractors, and volunteers
  • Certain mining and energy industries

Responsibility for Protecting Workers

Even with the best protection, it is not possible to avoid all workplace injuries and fatalities. Workers in shipyards are generally covered under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA). This includes most maritime workers, including longshoremen, harbor workers, and those working on docks and in shipping terminals or shipyards. Some employees are excluded, such as those working on smaller recreational vessels, recreational vessel repair, and marina employees. Marine workers, who are considered seamen, are covered under the Jones Act.

Similar to Workers’ Compensation, the LHWCA provides monetary benefits, including approximately two-thirds of their average weekly salary paid to injured workers during recovery. Benefits can also be paid for temporary or permanent disability, whether it be total or partial. In addition, reasonable and necessary medical costs are covered under the law.

Cape May Maritime Lawyers at Freedman & Lorry, P.C. Advocate for Injured Maritime Workers

If you or a loved one was injured in a shipbuilding accident, contact one of our experienced Cape May maritime lawyers at Freedman & Lorry, P.C. today. Call us today 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.