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Jones Act Safety Rules

Overview of Jones Act Safety Rules

The Jones Act provides safety rules in the favor of the employee. Most individuals working offshore have no idea of the significant rights and safety rules which apply to their day-to-day activities. Unfortunately, many companies routinely violate these rules. Very often when we speak to potential clients we are told that “we always did the job that way” even though specific rules and regulations were being violated.

Many workers aren’t aware of the rules in place that protect those who work in the maritime industry. It may be assumed that just because an employer does something, it is the right thing. In fact, they could actually be violating the rules that are designed to protect you.

The Safety Rules Under the Jones Act

Jones Act employers must:

  • Provide a safe working environment, including safe equipment, tools and safety devices
  • Conduct regular safety inspections to ensure that the work environment is safe and free from hazards
  • Provide adequate training, supervision and assistance to all employees
  • Take adequate measures, such as required background checks and drug testing, to ensure that workers are safe from the harmful acts of other crew members
  • Adopt and enforce safety rules and regulations
  • Provide adequate and working emergency safety equipment for all employees
  • Ensure the vessel is properly manned
  • Not require the crew to work in inclement weather or dangerous conditions

Safe Place to Work

Under the Jones Act, an employee has a right to a “safe place to work”. This is one of the broadest rules of the Jones Act and it applies to many situations which can cause injuries. If your case is decided by a judge or jury, that judge or jury will specifically determine if you were given a “safe place to work”. If you have suffered an injury and you think that the injury may have been caused because your workplace was unsafe, this could be a violation of the Jones Act.

Proper Training

Under the Jones Act, your employer also has duties to properly train you, properly supervise your work activities, and provide enough employees to do the jobs to which you are assigned. Very often newly hired employees will not be properly trained on how to do a job. Employers routinely refer to “on-the-job training” or OJT. We have found that this type of training can be insufficient for many of the detailed, complicated jobs which require experienced workers. Unfortunately the more dangerous procedures of certain jobs are the harder to perform procedures. Sometimes the newest employee will be given the hardest job because the more experienced, more senior employees do not want to perform the harder job.

Proper Manpower

Employers must also provide enough workers for the job to be performed safely under the Jones Act. This is typically one area where many employers will continually perform a job without sufficient employees simply because “it has always been done that way”. The Jones Act addresses this exact situation and the judge or jury in your case will be told that simply performing a job repeatedly the same way does not necessarily make the procedure safe. This is particularly true concerning procedures which are performed infrequently. In these situations, many employers will not have sufficient manpower to perform the job because it is not a routine procedure. Nonetheless, these employers very often simply perform the job with the crew members that are available at that time.

Losses stemming from a violation of Jones Act safety rules could include pain and suffering, disfigurement, disability, reduced quality of life, and more. A Jones Act lawyer based in New Orleans can help in determining all of your damages. 

Compliance with Industry Standards

Finally, there are many industry-specific rules and regulations which also apply under the Jones Act. These industry standards include the American Petroleum Institute (API) standards which apply to the operation of cranes offshore as well as rigging of cranes and slings. Under the API rules, the crane operator is always “in charge” of any procedure being performed by the crane. The crane operator is also required to have a flag man present on all lifts and the crane operator is ultimately responsible for the rigging of all loads.

Coast Guard rules also apply under the Jones Act since the employee is assigned to a Coast Guard “vessel”. This is the reason that the Coast Guard will typically investigate serious injuries which occur under the Jones Act. Coast Guard regulations include keeping the vessel safe and making sure that there are no dangerous trip or slip hazards aboard the vessel. All walkways also have to be properly marked under Coast Guard regulations.

Finally, OSHA regulations also provide guidance under the Jones Act. OSHA has detailed requirements that inspections be performed of workplaces. OSHA also requires that employees be given “safe” work places and that all equipment and machinery be working properly. Typically OSHA will have detailed specific rules such as requiring that the front of steps be marked with some type of visible marker including yellow paint.

OSHA Rules

OSHA creates and oversees the safety rules for barges and has many recommendations for ship workers to avoid accidents and injuries: 

  • removing debris from floors and walkways;
  • appropriately stacking items;
  • cleaning up spills immediately;
  • quickly repairing leaky hoses and pipelines;
  • using sufficient lighting when working at night;
  • walking, not running on the barge; and
  • using a ladder instead of climbing on cargo.

Falls from ladders are the leading cause of workplace injuries and deaths. The Jones Act requires barges and other vessels to practice appropriate safety measures regarding ladder use.

Ensuring Safety Offshore

One of the reasons that working offshore comes with such a competitive paycheck is that there are significant risks to working in this field.  There are, however, ways to protect yourself and mitigate the risks.  In addition to receiving the proper safety instructions and certifications, below are some more ways to ensure you are as safe as you can be in this working environment.

General tips for staying safe:

  • Keep workplaces, common areas, sanitary facilities and operating sites clean.
  • Keep areas of high traffic – including escape routes, rescue paths, and pathways to fire extinguishers and emergency aid equipment – free of all obstructions.
  • Report any hazard you observe immediately to someone in charge.
  • Always use the proper personal protective equipment for any job, including:
    • Hard hat
    • Protective gloves
    • Safety shoes
    • Protective suit
    • Eye protection
  • Always know who the supervisor in charge for your area is, as well as all reporting and information channels.
  • Always know where the emergency on/off switches and call facilities are.
  • Always know where the nearest first aid kit is, and where the fire alarms are located.
  • Know where life jackets and lifeboats are located.

More dangerous situations

Operate with an extra level of caution when:

  • Dismantling or setting up equipment
  • Working at heights
  • Handling pipes, drilling strings, and casings
  • Working in borehole basement
  • Working in enclosed spaces (check out SOLAS’ regulation)
  • Moving heavy loads
  • Carrying out pressure tests or handling explosives
  • Handling devices with radioactive sources
  • Reaching strata that may contain gases with hydrogen sulfide
  • In flush production of wells or when using an oil flush
  • In heavy winds

When something goes wrong

Sometimes, even when you take every possible precaution, things still go wrong.  In the case of an accident or disaster, here are a few ways to protect yourself and limit your potential for injury or worse.

Time, distance, and shielding – Three critical factors of survival

  • Time – Your risk for fatal expose increases the longer you remain in the area.
  • Distance – Your rate of survival is higher the farther away from the incident you are.
  • Shielding – The more physical barriers between you and the incident, the better your chances of survival (protective suits, standing behind a steel bulkhead, etc.)

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) – Availability and access

  • Have a spare set of protective gear immediately available to you at all times.  Know where protective gear is located, and how to get to it quickly in case of emergency.
  • Never assume any area is safe, and develop plans to mitigate your risk.
  • Keep a flashlight next to your bed – if there is a loss of power, you do not want to waste time digging through drawers in the dark.
  • Keep a set of protective gear hanging on your door in case of emergency egress.  This should include a set of fire-resistant coveralls with gloves, a flashlight and knife in the pockets; a pair of eye protection; a hardhat; and a pair of steel-toed boots with socks inside.  This spare pair of gear should be in addition to your work clothes, and should remain in “like-new” condition, as the protective gear loses effectiveness each time it is washed.
  • Maintain an “abandon ship” bag.  This bag should contain an EPIRB, a handheld VHF, a flashlight and any other supplies you may require in an emergency.


  • Keep your radio near you at all times – particularly at night when you’re in bed.  This will enable you to quickly learn details of an emergency from the moment you wake up if an alarm rings.

If You Get Injured

  • Seek safety immediately, then seek medical attention.
  • Report your injury to your supervisor. Your company should also be filing an accident report with the Coast Guard.
  • Don’t take a recorded statement. To protect yourself being blamed for your accident (unfortunately it does happen), it is best to not take a recorded statement, especially immediately after your accident when you may be in shock or confused. Many times recorded statements are used as evidence against you if you ever decide to file a claim, and sometimes they don’t even wait till them.
  • Request our guide: “Understanding Your Offshore Injury. There’s no need to go through an injury alone. Our firm provides many resources that help injured maritime workers get back on their feet.