How Maritime Law Protects Offshore Workers in Extreme Weather
In the maritime industry, extreme weather is an ever-present danger. Offshore oil and gas workers are particularly vulnerable to the hostile forces of nature. The unforgiving seas during a storm can result in not only material losses but also personal injuries or even fatalities. It is in such times that maritime law becomes a lifeline for those who work at sea. This article will explore the protection and compensation that maritime law extends to offshore workers facing the wrath of tropical storms, hurricanes, and other extreme weather.
What Is Maritime Law?
Maritime law, also known as admiralty law, is a specialized body of law that governs navigation, shipping, recreational and commercial vessels, and all types of maritime commerce and offshore operations. It includes domestic law on maritime activities and private international law governing the relationships between private entities that operate vessels on the oceans.
As such, maritime law addresses various aspects of offshore safety and extreme weather.
The Jones Act
One of the crucial pieces of legislation for seamen in the United States is the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, commonly known as the Jones Act. The Jones Act allows seamen who are injured in the course of their employment to pursue claims against their employers for negligence.
If an offshore worker is injured due to inadequate safety measures during a hurricane or other extreme weather, the Jones Act is usually the first refuge.
The Longshore & Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA)
The LHWCA protects workers on navigable waters and adjoining areas used in loading, unloading, repairing, or building a vessel. It ensures that workers receive compensation for injuries sustained, even if they do not qualify as "seamen" under the Jones Act.
Harbor workers and longshoremen may also be exposed to severe storms in the course of their employment. The LHWCA provides no-fault compensation for on-the-job injuries.
International Laws & Conventions
Outside of the United States, several international conventions aim to protect maritime workers. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has adopted the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW) and the Maritime Labor Convention, which set minimum safety and training standards and ensure fair working conditions.
The IMO and World Meteorological Organization (WMO) cooperate to ensure all ships have automatic access to maritime safety information, including weather forecasts and navigational warnings. This even includes the international ice patrol, which was established after the tragic loss of the Titanic in 1912 and is active to this day.
Compensation & Protections for Weather-Related Injuries
When extreme weather events injure offshore workers or claim their lives, they and their families can seek compensation for their injuries or losses. Storms will come. It is up to maritime employers to take the necessary steps to protect crews on their vessels, rigs, and platforms.
Maintenance & Cure
Under general maritime law, injured seamen are entitled to "maintenance and cure." Maintenance covers the seaman's living expenses while ashore, and cure provides for medical expenses related to an injury sustained while in service to a vessel. This entitlement is a right for all seamen, irrespective of the fault, and may include injuries sustained in severe weather.
Employer Negligence & Unseaworthiness
Nothing will test the seaworthiness of a vessel like a storm. Under the Jones Act, if an injury is due to an employer's negligence or the vessel's unseaworthiness, the seaman may be entitled to damages. These damages can include pain and suffering, past and future medical expenses, lost wages, and loss of earning capacity.
Extreme weather conditions necessitate additional safeguards. Employers are obligated to ensure that vessels are seaworthy and capable of withstanding harsh weather. They must also provide appropriate safety gear and equipment. Part of this is knowing when to change course or evacuate in accordance with weather warnings.
If employers fail to meet these standards, injured workers can seek damages under maritime law.
Importance of Legal Counsel
Given the complexities of maritime law—particularly when extreme weather events are involved—injured offshore workers and their families should consult an attorney. A skilled maritime lawyer will know how to navigate the Jones Act and other relevant laws that can help an injured worker and his family recover the benefits and compensation to which they are entitled.
Looking Ahead: Improving Offshore Safety Through Law
Maritime law serves to protect offshore workers who face the very real dangers of extreme weather. Through maintenance and cure, employer negligence claims, and adherence to international conventions, maritime law offers various avenues for recourse. As weather patterns evolve, so should the laws protecting those most vulnerable to storms. In this continuous process of evolution, the welfare and safety of maritime workers must remain the compass guiding legislative and industrial change. No matter what.