The Dangers of Underwater Welding
Underwater welding is a specialized type of welding that requires extensive training and unique skills. Underwater welders frequently work on offshore oil rigs and offshore pipelines when they are in need of repair. While the work can be very lucrative, it is arguably the most dangerous job in the country.
According to one study, underwater welders have the highest fatality rate of any occupation. While the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not track fatality rates of underwater welders as its own group, estimates in the industry put the figure at 15%. For comparison, other highly dangerous jobs such as loggers and fishermen have fatality rates of below 0.2%. That means underwater welders are more than 75 times as likely to die on the job as some of America's most dangerous occupations.
Dangers Faced By Underwater Welders
Underwater welders face substantial risks each time they are on a job. Many of those risks could prove fatal, while others can cause long-term health problems.
Here are some of the most common dangers faced by underwater welders.
- Electric Shock – Electrocution is the biggest threat to underwater welders. Special waterproof equipment must be used for all underwater welding jobs. It is essential that all equipment be properly tested and insulated prior to use.
- Explosions – Gas pockets created by the formation of hydrogen and oxygen pose a huge risk to underwater welders. If ignited, these pockets can result in lethal explosions.
- Drowning – A failure of any part of an underwater welder's SCUBA gear could lead to drowning.
- Decompression Sickness – Also known as diver's disease, decompression sickness occurs when divers inhale harmful gases when moving between pressure zones. Extreme cases of decompression sickness can be fatal.
- Ear, Lung, and Nose Damage – Spending a lot of time in high-pressure waters can lead to long-term ear, lung, and nose damage.
- Marine Wildlife – While not commonly attacked, underwater welders must be conscious of marine wildlife such as sharks and other potentially deadly creatures.
A Lack of New Standards Indicates a Need for Change
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released data on commercial diver death rates from 1989 to 1997. According to those numbers, there was an average of 5 deaths per year over that nearly 10-year period. OSHA also reports that an average of 6 to 13 diving-related deaths occurred every year according to their past statistics.
Unfortunately, there are no recent statistics on the number of underwater welding accidents that occur every year in the U.S. OSHA’s standards on commercial diving haven’t been updated since 1978. This indicates the lack of newer regulations and safety procedures in this field. With the drastic changes to diving equipment, welding gear, and even diving practices that have occurred over the last few decades, the lack of revision to diving standards may put underwater welders at risk.
Though some safety measures have been improved, it is important that these numbers remain updated and standards continually revised to ensure the proper safety measures are taken in the workplace. While underwater welding is a dangerous occupation, workplace safety can go a long way in preventing accidents and injuries.
Preventing Underwater Welding Accidents
To reduce the likelihood of fatal underwater welding accidents, offshore companies and maritime employers must ensure the proper training and certification of their divers, must implement and enforce strict safety standards, and must take care to ensure the maintenance and repair of all diving equipment. If you need help after an underwater welding accident, contact the offshore injury attorneys at Arnold & Itkin to learn about your legal rights.