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New OSHA Shipyard Standards Seek to Improve Longshore Worker Safety

In May, 2011, the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced a final rule intended to improve safety for shipyard workers through updated workplace-safety standards. The new regulations will help longshore workers avoid injury, but if they do get hurt on the job, shipyard workers may be entitled to compensation through the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act.

OSHA's Shipyard Safety Rule

Most provisions of OSHA's new shipyard-standards rule are effective on August 1, 2011, with the remaining provisions going into effect on October 21, 2011. The rule reflects advances in technology and changes in the longshore industry, modernizing rules that had not been revised since they were first adopted in 1972 and addressing hazardous energy for the first time.

The updated safety standards are designed to prevent these main causes of longshore worker injury:

  • Trips, slips and falls
  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Electrocution

An OSHA Fact Sheet states that the new standards are expected to prevent 1.2 fatalities and about 350 serious injuries from shipyard accidents each year.

New Shipyard Safety Requirements

OSHA's final rule addresses fourteen shipyard health and safety categories. Some of the changes to onsite-safety requirements include:

  • Ensuring an adequate number of trained first-aid providers are available
  • Establishing minimum lighting standards
  • Updating sanitation requirements
  • Accounting for employees who work alone at the end of their work shifts or job tasks
  • Requiring seatbelt use while operating motor vehicles

The rule particularly focuses on reducing transportation accidents, which account for almost 20 percent of all shipyard fatalities, according to the Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics' Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries. The rule also requires that all motor-driven vehicles used to transport workers, materials or property have the following safety equipment:

  • Seatbelts
  • Brakes
  • Airbags
  • Headlights and tail lights
  • Emergency or hazard lights
  • Horns
  • Windshield wipers
  • Mirrors
  • Locks
  • Windshield defrosters

OSHA's new shipyard standards also seek to improve safety for pedestrians and bicyclists on-site. Under the final rule, shipyards must have dedicated travel lanes for motor vehicles, bicyclists and pedestrians, with traffic control devices or barriers to separate the travel lanes. Speed limits for all motor vehicles are required as well as "no drive" times when pedestrians can move without vehicle traffic.

Other new, updated or consolidated standards were established for housekeeping, utilities, vessel radar and communication systems, lifeboats, physical hazard marking, accident prevention, Department of Transportation signage, and rim wheel servicing.

While the new OSHA rule brings much-needed improvements to shipyard safety, longshore work is still dangerous and accidents can happen. Because of the unique hazards of shipyard work, longshore workers are provided a unique form of workers' compensation through the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act.

Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA)

Shipyard workers who suffer work-related injuries or illnesses may make injury claims through the LHWCA. The LHWCA provides both medical care and compensation to people who are injured or acquire occupational diseases while working on the navigable waters of the U.S., or while loading, unloading, repairing or building ships in adjoining areas such as harbors and shipyards. The LHWCA covers longshore workers but does not provide workers' compensation for vessel crew members or employees of the government.

According to the U. S. Department of Labor, the LHWCA provides all medical, surgical and hospital services required to treat a work-related injury as well as the cost of travel for the treatment. Longshore workers covered by the LHWCA may choose their own physicians for their medical care as long as the physicians meet the requirements of the Labor Department's Office of Workers' Compensation Programs.

The LHWCA also provides disability compensation. Under the LHWCA, a worker is disabled if he or she is unable to earn the same wages earned at the time of the injury because of the injury. Disability may be permanent or temporary as well as total or partial, and the amount of compensation depends on the worker's degree of disability. Longshore workers also may receive disability compensation for latent occupational diseases that manifest after retirement.

In addition, injured longshore workers also may receive vocational rehabilitation. Vocational rehabilitation helps injured workers return to work and may involve evaluation, counseling and retraining, sometimes including the cost of tuition.

If you have been injured while working in a shipyard, contact a knowledgeable personal injury attorney. A lawyer with experience in longshore worker injury cases can help you make a claim under the LHWCA and get the compensation you are entitled to for performing hazardous work.

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