Did you know that there are over 26,000 dry barges and more than 3,000 tanker barges operating today? Barge injuries happen up and down the Mississippi River and even out in the Gulf of Mexico on a daily basis. Your injury on a barge may have been caused by one of these common issues that we regularly deal with in helping clients who were injured in barge accidents.
Is Your Company Playing by the Rules?
The barges you worked on had lots of rigging and wires on them; working with wires and rigging is one of the main things you do as a barge worker. Your company should have provided you with safe wire that didn’t have any kinks or burrs in it, and all of the ratchets and other rigging also should have been in good shape. And this is true even if you picked up the barge in a fleet and it already had the wires on it. Many of our clients were injured while jerking on a wire that should have been taken out of service by their company. A kinky wire is much harder to handle than a proper wire. You also want to ask if your company had a tag out program whereby any wires in poor shape were tagged and taken out of use. This is standard practice at good companies and it is a practice supported by the American Waterways Operators. The AWO has a Responsible Carrier Program which sets out lots of rules that safe companies should follow. You can download a copy of their program here. Did your company follow all of these rules?
Is Your Captain Putting Your Safety First?
Another important aspect about your work as a barge worker is that you often have to rely on your captain or pilot to safely operate the tug. In many situations you have to work together with your captain or pilot as he maneuvers the tug around, and your injury may have been caused by something the captain or pilot could and should have done differently in running the tug. This includes when you guys are facing up to barges, doing rigging on barges, or when you are simply securing the lines of the tug. I know you may not want to blame your captain for your injury, but the reality is he is in charge of properly operating the tug. A lot of barge injuries occur due to improper tug operations from choosing where to have you guys transfer on and off of the barges, to working with you when you face up and secure mooring lines. All of these jobs start with the actions of your captain or pilot at the wheel.
(But I was the Captain or Pilot)
What if you’re the captain or pilot of a vessel and you suffered an injury? Well, you may have been shorthanded with not enough deck crew on board, and you may have been doing deck work when you were injured. We have helped many captains whose injuries occurred when they were outside the wheelhouse performing regular tow work such as working a wench or helping to hook up a tow line. As an injured captain or pilot, one of the main issues in your claim is whether or not you can return to work. Your company will likely push you back to work as fast as they can since you made a great deal of money as a captain. Be very careful about this. While sitting in the wheelhouse is a light duty ‘easy’ job, you have to ask yourself if you can return to being a working captain that helps the crew out, and can you even work in a vessel environment which involves unsteady surfaces, the rocking boat, transferring on and off the vessel and other physical activities. Don’t get fooled into thinking you can do your work even with physical restrictions put on you by your doctor. All vessel workers including captains have to be able to perform heavy manual labor if necessary. Could you go out and apply for a job at a different company and get hired, even with your injury?
Common Hazards on Barges & How They Can be Avoided
A lot of injuries on barges are caused when you have to transfer from one barge to another or from the tug to a barge. This may have been how your injury occurred. Empty barges next to full barges create a height difference that you have to go up or down as you move from one barge to the next. Your company certainly knows this. Were you provided with a safe way to get from an empty barge down to a loaded one, or vice versa? Or from the tug to a barge? If old tires were used, were they correctly located on the sides of the barges to allow you to safely transfer, or were they too high or too low on the side of the barge?
If your injury was caused by the winches on the tug or the barges, you will want to make sure they were working properly. Most deck winches on tugs are very old and have teeth and dogs that don’t properly secure the wire as you use the winch. Some older tugs have improperly mounted winches which don’t give you enough space to safely operate the winch. When barges have deck winches, these winches also have to be in good working order.
Hazards Can Increase Depending on the Type of Barge You Work On
Tank barge injuries involve special issues that may not come up in dry barge claims. As a tankerman, you have to deal with a lot more barge equipment than a dry barge worker. You guys regularly handle large cross over hoses, and you have to transfer heavy hoses from barge to dock and back again, working together with the dock guys. Often the loading arms are not working correctly or are not well maintained which makes it harder to handle the hoses. Because you are transferring product, there is a risk of spills on the barge which can create a dangerous deck. There are specific Federal Regulations (‘the regs’) which apply to your barge. You can read them here. There are also lots of special reports you will want to get in your claim including the Certificates of Inspection (COIs). It is important to get all of these documents and also to hold your company to the regulations.
“Normal” Procedures Doesn’t Mean They Were Safe Procedures
One final important point. As with oil rig injuries and vessel injuries, your injury on a barge may have occurred when you were doing a job ‘just like you always did it’. Many of our clients assume that this means they can’t recover what they deserve. The law says that just because you were doing a job the same way you had always done it, that does not mean it was being done safely. In other words, don’t assume that “business as usual” means that you can’t win your claim. The standard in court is whether or not the safest available way was being used- not whether you guys always did the job the way you were doing it when you got hurt. Getting you fair compensation is still possible even if everything may have seemed ‘normal’ to you at the time of your accident. What you don’t know can cost you a lot.
Call us to talk more about your injury. Let’s see if we can help you move forward and get you what you may deserve.
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