According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration more than 300 barge workers were killed between 1997 and 2006 in on-vessel accidents and explosions. Workers died from drowning after falling off of their vessels without life jackets, suffered fatal injuries when the equipment they were working with shifted due to wakes and became asphyxiated when they were deprived of oxygen and did not have the proper breathing equipment to save their lives.
Practically all of these deaths and the deaths of barge workers that have occurred in the last decade were preventable. The implementation of best safety practices by barge owners and operators could reduce the number of needless deaths in this industry and promote safer working conditions for the men and women who engage in barge work each and every day. Because barges are a common site to New Orleans residents and many find work on them in order to earn their livings, this post will briefly discuss some ways that barges may be made safer for those who work on them.
Barge decks should be kept free of hazards that could cause workers to slip, trip or fall. Although not every obstacle can be removed from the surface of a barge, workers should be instructed to move slowly and carefully while on barge decks to reduce the likelihood that they will suffer an injury-causing fall.
Additionally, barges that do not utilize railings must ensure that their workers wear life vests while performing their duties. Drowning accidents can be significantly reduced if workers do not go into the water without vests for floatation.
Finally, workers on barge decks should be properly instructed on how to use the equipment that the barges carry and should also be provided with the proper safety tools to effectively use that equipment in a safe manner. A poorly trained employee could put their life and the lives of others on the line if they improperly use equipment or machinery in a dangerous way.
Barges are a necessary tool for maritime operations but can pose dangers to those who must work upon them. Readers who have suffered injuries while working on barges should understand that their injuries may be compensable. Consultation with admiralty and maritime law attorneys can provide assistance for those in this unique situation.