What the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea Means for Offshore Workers

The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) is an international maritime law that governs safety on merchant ships. The first version of the law was created in 1914. It was created in response to the Titanic disaster, the now infamous cruise liner sinking that claimed the lives of nearly 1,500 people. The creators of the treaty designed it to prevent the preventable loss of life that occurred as the Titanic sank into the Atlantic. It’s simple: had the vessel had enough lifeboats, the fatality rate of the accident would not have been as high as it was.

As the maritime industry has evolved over the decades, the SOLAS has evolved with it. Since its creation, it has been revised in 1929, 1948, 1960, and 1974. While the 1974 version of SOLAS is still active, it has been amended numerous times to adjust to changes in the maritime industry. Today, SOLAS 1974 has 164 states that follow its terms. In other words, about 99 percent of merchant ships fall under SOLAS.

What SOLAS Means for Offshore Workers

SOLAS 1974 requires all states with ships carrying their flag to meet minimum safety standards. Specifically, SOLAS 1974 has safety provisions for the construction, equipment, and operation of merchant ships.

According to the International Maritime Organization, the purpose of SOLAS is “to specify minimum standards for the construction, equipment, and operation of ships, compatible with their safety.”

Important SOLAS provisions that help workers include:

  • Fire protection, detection, and extinguishing equipment requirements.
  • Minimum requirements for lifeboats based on a ship’s size and occupancy.
  • Standards for the Global Maritime Distress Safety System, a radio and GPS system required for passenger and cargo ships.
  • Navigation safety requirements requiring mariners to account for weather forecasts, tidal predictions, capabilities of a vessel’s crew, and other important factors that contribute to a voyage.
  • Requirements for any nearby vessels to respond to distress calls.
  • Requirements for securing cargo safely.
  • Safety regulations governing the carrying of dangerous materials.
  • Requirements for shipowners or those responsible for a vessel to follow the International Safety Management (ISM) Code, a requirement for specific safety management systems on a vessel.

The provisions listed above are only a few of the protections that SOLAS 1974 provides to offshore workers. In short, the treaty is important for providing a base level of protection to offshore workers. It protects workers from a country with robust maritime laws from accidents caused by other countries with limited safety laws. Additionally, it provides important safety requirements that disable most of the world’s shipowners from having an excuse for providing limited safety gear and lifeboats on their vessels. The SOLAS convention is important because it creates an equal playing field for most merchant ships, and lets maritime workers around the world enjoy a base level of safety standards.

If you think that you've suffered injuries because of an unsafe vessel, you have the opportunity to hold its owners accountable for failing to follow SOLAS and other laws such as the Jones Act. The experience offshore injury lawyers from Arnold & Itkin are ready to listen to your story at no cost and help you decide what to do. Calling (888) 346-5024 right now will connect you with a member of our team.

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