Can You File a Maritime Injury Claim for Sun Exposure?

Jones Act Oct 6, 2022

While maritime workers face prolonged sun exposure year-round, working in the sun can be especially dangerous during the summer months. Maritime workers regularly suffer exposure-related injuries on land, on vessels, and on rigs and platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, and sadly some of these injuries prove fatal. If you have suffered severe burns, have suffered a heat stroke or heart attack, or are dealing with any other medical condition caused by sun exposure on the job, you may be entitled to compensation, and you should speak with a Mississippi Jones Act lawyer about your legal rights.

Understanding the Risks of Sun Exposure as a Maritime Worker

Just how dangerous is working in the sun? According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), “[a]lthough illness from exposure to heat is preventable, every year, thousands become sick from occupational heat exposure, and some cases are fatal.” OSHA also notes that more than half of all workplace exposure-related deaths occur “in the first few days of working in warm or hot environments” because the body has not yet acclimatized to the heat of the sun.

While simply working under the hot sun can be dangerous, certain job-related risk factors can increase the risk of severe sun-related illness. All of these risk factors are concerns for maritime workers. As identified by OSHA, the risk factors that can increase the dangers of working in the sun include:

  • Heavy Physical Activity – Many maritime occupations are physically demanding. When performing heavy physical activity, workers’ body temperatures increase, and this compounds the risks of working under the hot sun.
  • Lack of Acclimatization – Maritime workers are often called to duty at a moment’s notice, and for those who are not used to working in the sun, lack of acclimatization can be a significant concern. As noted above, workers (and their employers) need to be especially cautious during the first few days of working in extreme heat during the summer months.
  • Warm or Hot Environmental Conditions – Engine rooms, enclosed cabins, barges, and other maritime workplaces can be dangerously hot on their own. When combined with the heat of the summer sun, this heat can present risks for serious, if not fatal, illnesses and injuries.
  • Wearing Clothing that Holds in Body Heat – Personal floatation devices (PFDs) hold in body heat, and this can also increase the risk of working in the sun. The same is true of safety harnesses, overalls, protective gear, and other clothing frequently worn by maritime workers.

Maritime Employers’ Duty to Protect Workers from Harmful Sun Exposure

Just like other types of health and safety hazards, maritime employers have a legal obligation to protect their employees from harmful sun exposure. This obligation appears in Section 1910.132(a) of Chapter 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations, which states:

“Protective equipment, including personal protective equipment for eyes, face, head, and extremities, protective clothing, respiratory devices, and protective shields and barriers, shall be provided, used, and maintained in a sanitary and reliable condition wherever it is necessary by reason of hazards of . . . environment . . . encountered in a manner capable of causing injury or impairment in the function of any part of the body through absorption, inhalation or physical contact.”

OSHA has made clear that this obligation applies specifically to sun exposure, stating, “The Occupational Safety and Health Administration does address worker exposure to the sun’s radiation indirectly under our 29 Code of Federal Regulations 1910.132(a) pertaining to personal protective equipment. Employers are to use effective forms of protection such as wide-brim hats and long sleeve clothing.”

OSHA also states that employers should:

  • “[C]reate plans to protect workers from developing heat-related illnesses;”
  • Ensure that workers consume adequate fluids and take frequent breaks;
  • Allow employees to work shorter shifts when necessary;
  • “[Q]uickly identify any heat illness symptoms” and provide access to appropriate treatment immediately; and,
  • Use a thermometer and on-site wet bulb globe temperature (WBGT) meter to assess temperature and humidity-related risks in sun-exposed work environments.

Symptoms of Heat Stroke and Other Sun-Related Medical Conditions

Heat stroke and other sun-related medical conditions can endanger maritime workers in a few different ways. First, the medical condition on its own can be dangerous. For example, heat stroke can cause seizures or coma, and these can have life-altering or life-threatening complications.

Suffering from a heat illness can also cause internal organ damage. Reduced oxygen intake, severe dehydration, and other effects of heat illness can cause damage to the kidneys and other organs. This is one of many reasons why it is important that maritime workers receive prompt medical treatment even if they don’t necessarily feel like they need emergency medical attention immediately.

Heat stroke and other sun-related medical conditions can also cause weakness, loss of balance, and fainting. In maritime workplaces, these can all be extremely dangerous. If workers suffering from heat illnesses fall on the job, they risk suffering concussions, broken bones, and other serious traumatic injuries.

With this in mind, it is important that maritime workers receive medical treatment at the first sign that they are suffering from the effects of sun exposure. Common symptoms indicating the need for medical treatment include:

  • Confusion
  • Disorientation or dizziness
  • Dry mouth or tongue
  • Extreme thirst
  • Headaches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Rapid pulse
  • Skin that is cool or hot to the touch
  • Slurred speech
  • Sweating heavily

Signs of a Heart Attack Caused By Sun Exposure

The risk of suffering a heart attack is a concern for maritime workers who spend long days in the sun as well, and, like other effects of sun exposure, maritime workers can seek compensation for heart attacks under the Jones Act and other federal maritime laws. Signs of a heart attack caused by overwork or sun exposure may include:

  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath 
  • Feeling light-headed or faint
  • Pain or discomfort in the arms, shoulders, neck, or back
  • Pressure, tightness, or a squeezing feeling in the chest  

With all medical conditions caused by sun exposure, prompt treatment can be critical to a full and speedy recovery. If you have concerns, you should see a doctor promptly, and you should talk to a Mississippi Jones Act lawyer right away.

Talk to a Jones Act Lawyer about Your Legal Rights

If you need to know more about seeking financial compensation for sun exposure at work, we encourage you to contact us for a free consultation. If you were injured in Mississippi, talk to a Jones Act lawyer David Willis about your legal rights in confidence, call 800-468-4878 or tell us how we can reach you online now. 

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