Working on the crew – or in any other capacity – in the maritime industry is dangerous, to begin with, but being exposed to toxic chemicals, fumes, and/or paints in the course of your work is one danger many may not have taken into consideration. The Federal Maritime Law is in place to help ensure that crew members and other maritime workers are afforded a reasonably safe work environment and a vessel that is seaworthy. If toxic fumes on the job leave you injured, it’s time to consult with an experienced Mississippi maritime lawyer.

Toxic Fumes in the Workplace and Safety Practices

Employers owe crew members a duty of care that includes implementing reasonable precautions as they relate to working around and/or with toxic chemicals, paints, and fumes (all of which are common to maritime work). While such toxins are always dangerous, they can be made even more so when the work involves confined spaces and/or areas that are poorly ventilated (which is also common to the maritime profession). Employers are responsible for ensuring that all the following are true:

● Crew members are appropriately instructed regarding the dangers of working with toxic chemicals and fumes,
● Crew members receive the safety training they need.
● Crew members are provided with the protective equipment and respirators they need and are trained in their use.

Dangerous exposure to toxic chemicals, paints, and fumes can lead to very serious injuries and illnesses, such as brain injuries, neurological damage, pulmonary injuries, and more. Proving the correlation between your injury and your exposure, however, is likely to be exceptionally complicated, and having a dedicated maritime attorney in your corner is one of the most important steps you can take to help protect your claim – in pursuit of your fullest recovery.

Maritime Work

Working in the maritime industry doesn’t always mean working on the water. Maritime work includes jobs in port facilities, jobs in offshore oil rigs, jobs onboard vessels, and more. Of the many risks that maritime workers face, exposure to toxic chemicals – whether through direct contact or via the inhalation of fumes – is one of the most dangerous. There are many chemicals that are either transported on maritime vessels or that are used in the course of maritime work that have the potential to be harmful when improperly stored, used, or handled. While most maritime employers do have safety measures and the requisite safety gear in place, this doesn’t do maritime workers much good if they don’t receive the safety training they need, if their fellow workers fail to follow safety protocols, and/or if the available safety equipment isn’t properly maintained. In other words, your employer’s responsibility extends beyond mere basics.

Health Hazards

Dangerous chemicals break down into both health hazards and physical hazards.

Health Hazards

If the toxic chemical in question has the potential to cause either chronic or acute health concerns, it is considered a health hazard, and common general examples include:

● Carcinogens
● Corrosives
● Irritants

Physical Hazards

Physical hazards, by contrast, pose a physical threat. Examples include:

● Combustible and flammable liquids
● Compressed gasses
● Explosives
● Compounds that ignite when exposed to the air (pyrophoric compounds)
● Compounds that react when exposed to water

Toxins and Exposure

Some of the most common toxic chemicals that are associated with health hazards for maritime workers include:

● Acids
● Ammonia
● Benzene
● Chlorine
● Cleaning Solutions
● Diesel Fuel and gasoline
● Disinfectants
● Pesticides
● Materials used for insulation
● Refrigerant gases
● Toxic metals, such as lead, arsenic, and cadmium

In addition to exposure that may occur in the routine course of maritime work, all of the following can lead to dangerous chemical exposure:

● Bad weather
● Collisions
● Equipment failure
● Fires and explosions
● Human error
● Improper or unauthorized dumping
● Intentional or illegal acts
● Improper packaging, filling, or loading

Signs of Exposure

The fact is that exposure to toxic chemicals in maritime work can be a dramatic event that leaves little question regarding the source of your injury, but it can also happen over time, and one may not even recognize the connection. Some of the most common signs and symptoms associated with toxic chemicals include:

● Blood in your mucus or saliva
● Body aches
● Breathing difficulties
● Burning or irritation of the eyes, nose, and/or throat
● Chest pains
● Coughing and wheezing
● Disorders of the nervous system
● Dizziness and lightheadedness
● General fatigue
● Headaches
● Nausea and vomiting
● Rashes and/or chemical burns

Exposure to dangerous toxins can also affect your unborn children, and birth defects are sometimes associated.

The Jones Act and Asbestos

The Jones Act is a federal law that – in addition to many other important protections – is designed to protect sailors and others who work in the maritime industry from being harmed as a result of either mistreatment or exposure to excessive levels of danger on the job. After mounting medical evidence proved a decided connection between long-term exposure to asbestos and life-threatening illnesses, such as mesothelioma, U.S. maritime operations halted all use of products containing asbestos. Because there was considerable lag in this process and because asbestos-related illnesses can take many years to present, maritime workers continue to face dangerous illnesses caused by asbestos. The Jones Act continues to allow maritime workers who’ve been harmed by exposure to asbestos on the job to pursue negligence-based lawsuits against their employers.

Damages that can be recovered under the Jones Act include:

Medical expenses –including past medical bills, and those you are reasonably likely to incur in the future.
Wage replacement – including past lost wages and loss of future wage earning capacity.
Physical Pain and Suffering– including compensation for physical pain and suffering, physical disability, and impairment.
Mental Anguish and Emotional Distress – including humiliation, embarrassment, worry and concern, feelings of economic insecurity, and inconvenience.
Wrongful Death Damages that are recoverable include damages for loss of financial support, loss of nurture and guidance to minor children, loss of service, and pre-death pain and suffering.

Additionally, injured workers can recover Maintenance and Cure – essentially a stipend to cover food and shelter and care while their claim is progressing. In some cases, where Maintenance and Cure is improperly denied, punitive damages may be recovered.

Turn to an Experienced Mississippi Maritime Attorney for the Legal Guidance You Need

Maritime workers face considerable dangers in the daily course of their work, but if you’ve been exposed to toxic chemicals on the job, it can seriously increase the risk involved. Christopher Van Cleave at Van Cleave Law in Biloxi is an accomplished maritime attorney who is committed to helping clients like you obtain just compensation that covers the full range of their damages. The Maritime/Offshore Injury Team at Van Cleave Law is ready to assist with every aspect of your claim from beginning to end. Call (228) 432-7826 or contact us online for a free case evaluation today.