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Metairie Louisiana Legal Blog

The atmosphere on a ship could cause harm to workers

Being close to major waterways here in Louisiana provides a substantial amount of employment opportunities for residents. Working in a shipyard, on the docks or on a vessel provides numerous benefits, but also a wide variety of risks. One that employers should never overlook is the atmosphere on a ship, which could result in serious harm to workers.

Going into confined or enclosed spaces seems to come with the job for many Louisiana residents who work in shipyards. While these spaces are not the only areas of a ship where the quality of the atmosphere could be compromised, spending time in these smaller spaces with little to no ventilation could result in serious injuries and illnesses. Every vessel should have either an NFPA-certified Marine Chemist or a shipyard competent person.

Outdated equipment could cause injuries on oil rigs and platforms

Many people here in Louisiana work in dangerous industries. They hope their employers provide them with the latest equipment in order to help keep them safe, but that does not always happen. For instance, it is probably not that unusual to find outdated equipment on oil rigs and platforms, such as their control systems, that could easily cause serious injuries to workers.

Minor repairs are needed all the time on oil platforms. Replacing parts is certainly easier and less expensive than replacing whole systems. A complete upgrade could cost as much as $20 million. Instead of laying out that kind of money, many companies attempt to only upgrade those parts of the system they can no longer simply repair since the technologies are no longer compatible.

The Longshore Harbor Workers' Compensation Act and falls at work

Nearly every worker here in Louisiana runs the risk of suffering injuries while on the job. One of the most often seen work-related accidents involves falls. Below are some of the most commonly seen injuries due to falls at work. For those who work the navigable waters surrounding the state, benefits for these and other injuries do not come from workers' compensation. Instead, some will qualify under the Longshore Harbor Workers' Compensation Act while others will qualify under the Jones Act.

In any case, the injuries that workers most often suffer due to falls include broken bones, which can take a significant amount of time to heal during which it may not be possible to work. Other injuries that can limit a person's ability to earn an income are sprains and strains. Like broken bones, these injuries cause a substantial amount of pain and limitations in mobility. 

The basics of admiralty and maritime law

The waterways around Louisiana provide employment for numerous residents. During the course of their duties, they could suffer debilitating injuries. The problem is that those who work on vessels, harbors, docks or oil platforms do not qualify for traditional workers' compensation as those who work on land do. Instead, they must rely on admiralty and maritime law for the benefits they need during recovery.

Federal courts hear most work-related injury claims. Depending on the type of work the injured person does, claims would be filed under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act or the Jones Act. In some cases, a claim could be filed under both acts.

Do you know about the Nonappropriated Fund Instrumentalities Act?

The U.S. Armed Forces has installations all over the world, including here in Louisiana. Many civilians fill essential roles that support the soldiers stationed at them. Some civilians working on these installations would receive benefits under the Defense Base Act if injured at work, but not all. Benefits for those in a certain category would come from the Nonappropriated Fund Instrumentalities Act.

The NFIA falls under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act. It covers those employees that are paid through nonappropriated funds such as workers at the exchange, at other retail stores and for recreational activities designed to make life better for service members. Employees working in these capacities here in Louisiana fall under the law.

Safety on an offshore oil platform isn't guaranteed

Some Louisiana residents make their living working out on the water, but not on navigable vessels. Instead, they work on oil platforms, which comes with numerous dangers. Even when a company takes safety on an offshore oil platform seriously, accidents still happen that cause injuries and take lives.

For example, Shell operates an auger tension leg platform out in the Gulf of Mexico somewhere in the neighborhood of 214 miles from New Orleans. Recently, personnel on the platform were conducting safety drills when an accident occurred. At around 9 a.m. on June 30, tragedy struck during a mandatory and routine lifeboat launch and retrieval test. 

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.

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