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Metairie Louisiana Legal Blog

Would eliminating 'bunker' fuel reduce work-related illnesses?

Louisiana residents who work in the shipping industry on the country's navigable waters are more than likely familiar with "bunker" fuel. Many freighters use this heavy fuel oil to power the engines. Unfortunately, this fuel can cause work-related illnesses such as asthma and other respiratory ailments that could cut a career short.

Bunker fuel consists of the dregs left over from the oil refining process. It is thick and loaded with sulphur, which produces fine particles and noxious gases when burned. It is not hard to imagine that it could cause problems with those working and living on the freighters that use this fuel knowing that the fumes can travel several miles and still affect the surrounding communities.

Working near water doesn�t guarantee LHWCA coverage

The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA) helps provide compensation for those who suffer injuries “on the navigable waters of the United States.” For some, it’s easy to understand if they are eligible for this compensation. Those hurt while performing construction on a pier or dock can file a claim quickly.

For others, it might not be as straightforward. Plenty of people operate near “navigable waters” and aren’t involved in shipbuilding or what many would consider traditional maritime occupations.

Maritime law the focus of recent U.S. Supreme Court decision

Sailors here in Louisiana and elsewhere face numerous dangers aboard ship regardless of whether they work for the U.S. military or a private company. One of those hazards comes from chemicals and other materials that could be toxic. Sailors have a right to know what could potentially cause them harm as they perform their onboard duties, and the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in a case involving maritime law affirms that right.

Two veterans of the U.S. Navy received news from their doctors that they had cancer. They believe their unknown exposure to asbestos aboard ship caused it. Their subsequent lawsuits against the manufacturer of some equipment went all the way up to the country's highest court.

A neck sprain could keep a worker on land for some time

Working on one of Louisiana's navigable vessels comes with risks. While workers often make sure they do what they can to avoid the obvious risks associated with their jobs, they may not pay enough attention to the less dangerous, but potentially just as debilitating, dangers. For instance, a neck sprain may not seem serious, but it could keep a worker on land for some time. 

A sudden twisting of the spine, a fall or whiplash could all lead to a neck sprain. When it happens, a worker may not think much of it, or it could cause excruciating pain. In fact, a neck sprain may not even happen in a sudden accident. It could result from a worker repeatedly forcing his or her joints beyond their normal limits. In either case, the resulting injury will undoubtedly be accompanied by pain.

Making forklift safety a priority on Louisiana's docks

Even though Louisiana workers assume a certain amount of risk when they take a job at a dock or harbor, it does not release their employers from providing a safe work environment. In fact, state and federal law require it. This extends to the equipment used in order to perform their duties, including forklifts. Employers are responsible for making sure that forklift safety is a priority for everyone in order to avoid accidents that could lead to serious or fatal injuries.

For instance, only employees who have the proper training should operate forklifts. Employers are responsible for making sure these vehicles remain in good working order, which means keeping up with routine maintenance and making repairs as soon as an issue is discovered. Even cleanliness is important since oil, grease and other debris creates a dangerous hazard.

That pain in a crewman's back could mean time away from work

When considering on-the-job injuries, most Louisiana residents think of acute accidents resulting in catastrophic results. Those types of accidents do happen, but a large number of injuries suffered by those who work on water, or on land for that matter, result from repetitive movements that result in chronic pain. These types of injuries often result in time away from work when the pain reaches a certain point and medical intervention is required.

Crew members aboard ship may not realize that the pain in their lower backs is due to their work. The pain could originate in either the back muscles or the tendons that connect muscles to the bones. A person's lower back takes the brunt of bending, moving and twisting. Those who are overweight, who improperly lift heavy objects or stand for extended periods could suffer from low back strain.

Rigging can be a dangerous job

That may seem like an obvious statement to anyone who works on Louisiana's shipyards, but that does not make it any less true. The fact of the matter is that riggers have a dangerous job. Nonetheless, it is an important part of a shipyard's daily operations.

Riggers prepare components, equipment and sections for lifting onto ships with hoists, cranes or other equipment designed to move materials. In addition to these duties, riggers may also serve as signalmen when needed. If a load is not properly rigged or rigging equipment fails, workers could suffer serious or fatal injuries.

How should injured workers file claims for the DBA?

An employee that is eligible for the Defense Base Act (DBA) must file a written claim for compensation within one year after their injury. That may sound like a long time, but there are several circumstances that could end up delaying the process.

One factor that can impact the proceedings is how the worker files the claim in the first place. While there are multiple ways to file to the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP), the agency is specific on how they want it done. Make sure you know about the following methods before sending your injury claim to them.

Admiralty and maritime law covers cruise ship employees

While many may think that icebergs are the greatest threat to passengers and crew members on a cruise ship, this just isn't so. Some of the greatest threats to health and safety exist right on the vessel itself. Louisiana passengers may be exposed to some of these dangers, but the crew of a cruise ship may be at even greater risk. Admiralty and maritime law protects cruise ship employees who suffer injuries on navigable waters.

One recent study shows that cruise ship crew members as well as passengers may be breathing deadly toxins. The study monitored the air quality on four Carnival Cruise ships and found that, on certain sections of the vessel, the level of particulate matter was as concentrated as it is in a polluted city such as Beijing. The highest concentrations of these toxins occurred at the stern, or the back of the ship behind the smoke stacks.

Admiralty and maritime law issues: SCI secondary complications

Without a doubt, suffering a spinal cord injury can change a Louisiana worker's life forever. Even achieving as full a recovery as possible interferes with daily life, and an individual may no longer be able to engage in certain activities, including work duties, as he or she did prior to the accident. This makes pursuing compensation under admiralty and maritime law all the more important for those who work in the industry, especially if secondary complications arise.

Secondary complications are medical issues that can, and often do, arise due to a spinal cord injury. Losing feeling in part of the body opens up a patient for other problems. For example, pressure sores are common in SCI patients since they cannot feel the affected area. If these sores become infected, the problem only gets worse. Even those who are temporarily paralyzed could end up with these sore, which are more commonly referred to as bedsores.

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