Barges are critical to the nation’s economy, transporting vital cargos between inland and sea ports. If you ask America’s barge workers, they’ll tell you that working on a barge is a great job but one with a lot of challenges. Successfully navigating the twists and turns of narrow and crowded waterways isn’t always as easy as they make it look.
Like all maritime work, a typical day’s work on a barge is full of potential hazards. Equipment failure, cargo mishaps, fires and collisions are just a few of the barge accidents that could result in serious injury or even death for a barge worker. According to data from OSHA, 305 persons were killed while working aboard a barge or tow boat between the years 1997 and 2006; during that same time, 370 explosions or fires occurred aboard a barge or tow boat, resulting in 14 deaths.
Avoiding Barge Accidents and Injuries
While on-the-job hazards are a fact of life for maritime workers, there are several steps barge workers can take to keep themselves safe and avoid being injured in these common barge accidents:
Slipping, Tripping, and/or Falling
Slip, trip, and fall accidents are a leading cause of workplace injuries on and off the water. To prevent these types of accidents, barge workers should strive to keep all walking and working surfaces clean, dry, and unobstructed. This includes stowing gear and equipment when not in use; making sure the decks and other walkways are properly lit; keeping decks, stairs, walkways, etc., free of water, ice and debris; and securing ramps during loading and offloading operations.
Falling overboard can result in serious injury, hypothermia, and even drowning. If a barge is not equipped with an OSHA-compliant railing system, then barge workers are required to wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life preserver or personal flotation device at all times. The barge should have clear “man overboard” rescue procedures in place, including training drills and classes, stand-by rescue craft, life rings connected to at least 90 feet of rope, and rescue ladders that extend below the water
Improperly Maintained or Used Equipment
Improperly used and maintained equipment can result in a number of barge accident injuries. To reduce the hazard of injury due to machinery or equipment accidents, barge workers should remember to inspect all machinery and equipment before use.
Employers should properly maintain equipment and machinery, and ensure that all persons using a piece of equipment or machinery are trained in its proper use and maintenance. Barge workers need to be especially careful when working around hoists, cranes, and winches and other types of moving machinery.
Barge Accidents for Workers in Enclosed Spaces
Part of working aboard a barge entails working in confined or enclosed spaces, such as watertight compartments, or other areas with little or no ventilation. Some of the hazards of working in these confined spaces include oxygen deficiency, explosive or flammable vapors, and atmospheres containing toxic compounds. To avoid being caught in these hazards, barge workers need to visually inspect the enclosed area for potential hazards and test the atmosphere before beginning work.
Fires and Explosions
Fires and explosions injure and kill a number of barge workers each year. Some of the steps a barge worker can take to reduce the danger of fire or explosion such as properly storing fuel tanks and compressed gas tanks, and following the proper safety precautions when welding, cutting, drilling, grinding, or performing other “hot” work. In addition to inspection and testing, barge workers should wear the proper personal protection gear, have proper fire extinguishing equipment on hand, and shield tanks and fuel sources from potential ignition sources.
One new hazard facing barge workers is the danger of becoming infected by COVID-19. To avoid infection, or spreading the virus to other crew members, barge workers should follow the same precautions they do while on shore: wear a protective mask, maintain social distancing when possible, and thoroughly wash hands after contact with potentially contaminated surfaces.
Help for Workers Injured in Barge Accidents
Barge accidents can result in a number of serious, even life-threatening injuries, including:
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Bone fractures
- Spinal injuries
- Crush injuries
These types of injuries can negatively impact a barge worker’s ability to work and provide for themselves and their families.
The Lambert Firm is a New Orleans maritime injury accident law firm with more than 40 years of experience representing barge workers and other maritime workers who have been injured in a wide variety of maritime accidents, including big settlements for a coverstacker whose hand was crushed by a barge cover while he was working on the river, and a deckhand who fell overboard while trying to secure a line because the barge’s deck lacked an appropriate non-skid surface.
If you’ve been injured in an accident that shouldn’t have happened while working aboard a barge, you have a right to seek damages caused by your injuries. The Lambert Firm is dedicated to helping you receive the compensation you deserve for injuries caused by the unseaworthiness of a barge or other vessel. Call us to schedule a free, initial consultation with one of our highly experienced maritime lawyers. We are based in New Orleans but serve clients injured in maritime injuries all over the country.