Compensation for Maritime Lifting Injuries

Injuries to crewmen and fishermen caused by lifting occur far too frequently. Back injuries can cause a lifetime of pain and suffering to an injured crewman. One of a crewman’s most important tools is a healthy back. Lifting injuries may limit a crewman’s ability to work aboard ships, tugs and fishing vessels in the future.

When a crewman is injured while performing an unsafe lifting task, Federal maritime law may provide compensation to the injured crewman. The employer and vessel owner owes each crewman a duty to provide a seaworthy vessel and a safe place to work. Requiring a crewman to lift excessive weight, make repetitive lifts, or make lifts that are not ergonomically correct may constitute Jones Act negligence.

Two crewmen should always be assigned to carry heavy loads. Carrying loads up and down stairs and ladders should be avoided. Mechanical cranes, conveyors and rollers should be utilized during cargo operations whenever possible to minimize the stresses placed on a crewman’s back. The possibility of injury while doing a lifting job is increased where the vessel is working in heavy weather and the working deck is slippery or uneven.

When a crewman complains of back pain he should be assigned light duty and rest. Requiring a crewman to continue doing a lifting job after reporting an injury can cause further damage. Frequently, fish processors are improperly required to work after reporting they have injured their backs. If you have a lifting injury to your back or spine, report your injury and ask the captain or medical officer of the vessel for medical attention.

Well recognized safety standards such as NIOSH place limits on the amount and frequency of the amount of weight a worker can safely lift. The basic threshold starts at 50 pounds, and safe weight decreases with the frequency of the lift, available hand holds on the object being lifted, the distance the load is carried, and whether there is twisting or turning involved in the lifting tasks.

Repetitive lifting of heavy objects by a crewman increases the risk of injury to the crewman’s low back. Lifting can cause damage to muscles, ligaments, discs and nerves in the spine. It is important that a crewman complaining of a low back injury be provided examination by properly trained medical personnel. Some of the signs of serious back injuries include shooting pain, radicular pain into the legs and feet, numbness, bowel and bladder issues, and weakness; symptoms may vary from one injury victim to another. It is important that crewmen suffering from low back injuries receive rest following their injury. Continuing to work aboard ship after a low back lifting injury may increase the damage that has been done.

In some cases, lifting injuries can require corrective surgery and result in a crewman’s inability to return to work aboard a ship. In these cases an experienced maritime lawyer can help you get all the medical care you deserve and need. In most cases involving back surgery, a Jones Act or unseaworthiness claim must be filed to obtain fair compensation for the pain and suffering you have suffered and the decreased earnings that may result from your injuries.

If you have questions about your rights to compensation caused by a lifting accident working at sea, contact James Beard for a free consultation about your potential claims and legal rights under Federal maritime law. Beard has experience in many types of lifting accidents aboard ships, and has handled many cargo handling injury cases on Alaska Fishing boats.