10 Top Injury Risks on Cargo Ships for Deckhands and Other Crew Members

Maritime Injuries May 24, 2023

Working on a cargo ship can be dangerous. While ship owners, shipping companies, and all of the various other companies involved in transporting cargo around the world should take steps to ensure that crew members’ safety isn’t at risk at sea, it is clear that far too many fail to do so. Accidents on cargo ships are extremely common, and many of these accidents have devastating physical and financial consequences for the crew members involved.

Common Causes of Serious Injuries Onboard Cargo Ships at Sea

Deckhands and other crew members onboard cargo ships face a variety of maritime injury risks on a daily basis. Here are 10 of the top causes of serious accidents onboard cargo ships at sea:

1. Shifting Containers

Shifting containers onboard cargo ships present extreme risks for deckhands and other crew members. If containers slide on (or below) the deck, they can pin crew members causing serious injury. Falling containers can be fatal for workers who are tragically in the wrong place at the wrong time. All containers should be properly secured with twist locks and lashing rods to protect deckhands and other crew members’ safety onboard.

2. Negligent Crane Operation

Cranes play an essential role in the loading and unloading of cargo ships. Operating a crane safely requires not only skill and precision but also constant attention to the task at hand. Whether a crane operator lacks experience, isn’t paying attention or simply makes a mistake, the consequences of negligent crane operation can be devastating.

3. Other Forms of Coworker Negligence

Along with the failure to properly secure containers and negligent crane operation, many other forms of coworker negligence can put cargo ship crew members’ health and safety at risk. This includes everything from failing to properly coil lines to making mistakes in the engine room and from drinking on the job to engaging in horseplay onboard. As with all of the other common causes of cargo ship injuries discussed in this article, deckhands and other crew members who suffer injuries due to coworker negligence can—and should—talk to a lawyer about filing a claim under the Jones Act.

4. Slip and Trip Hazards

Slips and trips are common causes of injuries on cargo ships. They are also preventable in almost all cases. The companies that own and operate cargo ships have a legal duty to ensure that their vessels are safe for their crew, and common safety failures such as failing to replace worn anti-skid surfacing will often lead to serious on-the-job injuries.

5. Equipment Malfunctions

Cargo ships have numerous types of equipment onboard. Each piece of equipment serves a unique purpose, and each piece of equipment must operate correctly in order to avoid unnecessary risks for injuries. When cargo ship owners and operators fail to do what is necessary to keep their vessels’ equipment in safe operating condition, malfunctions can lead to injuries ranging from brain and spine injuries to loss of digits and limbs.

6. Entrapment

Entrapment in cargo holds, between shifting containers and in other areas of a cargo ship can present life-threatening risks. In many cases, suffocation is a very real concern, and even if a suffocation incident isn’t fatal, oxygen deprivation can cause brain damage that has lifelong consequences. Entrapment of crew members’ arms and legs can cause severe traumatic injuries as well—including injuries that require amputation in some cases.

7. Exposure to Harmful Fumes or Particles

Deckhands and other crew members on cargo ships may be exposed to a variety of harmful fumes and particles while traveling from one port to the next. Diesel and gasoline fumes, asbestos, dust, and other fumes and particles can all cause serious respiratory conditions with the potential for long-term if not fatal, complications.

8. Strenuous Work

Working onboard a cargo ship is a very strenuous job. From heavy lifting to spending long hours on deck, deckhands and other crewmembers face a variety of injury risks simply by the nature of what they do on a day-to-day basis. Injuries from accidents and repetitive stress are both covered under the Jones Act and, if doing your job has left you with an injury, you owe it to yourself to speak with an experienced lawyer about your legal rights.

9. High Winds and Rough Seas

Cargo ships routinely encounter high winds and rough seas. While cargo ships are designed to handle extremely heavy conditions, these conditions can still present injury risks for crew members onboard. Even if the ship’s captain navigates the conditions safely, and even if the ship is seaworthy, accidents can still happen in unfavorable conditions. Even in these scenarios, injured crew members are still entitled to maintenance and cure benefits under the Jones Act.

10. Captain’s Negligence

Accidents at sea can also result from the ship captain’s negligence. While most cargo ship captains are extremely competent, mistakes can—and do—happen. Human error was identified as a likely factor in the grounding of the Ever Given in the Suez Canal in 2021, and this is just one of the numerous examples of cases in which captains’ errors may have put crew members’ safety and lives at risk.

What to Do if You Suffered an Injury on a Cargo Ship

If you have suffered an injury due to any of these factors (or any other factor) onboard a cargo ship, you should speak with a lawyer about your legal rights. A lawyer who has experience representing injured seamen will be able to explain everything you need to know and will be able to fight for maximum financial compensation on your behalf.

Discuss Your Legal Rights with a Maritime Lawyer at Willis Law Firm

To learn more about your legal rights after suffering an injury onboard a cargo ship, contact Willis Law Firm today. We provide free initial consultations to injured seamen, and we do not charge any legal fees unless we win. Call 800-468-4878 or get in touch online to schedule an appointment today.

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