Barge & Tugboat Accident Attorneys

Fighting for Seamen Injured on Tugboats & Barges

Barges, flat-bottomed boats designed for moving heavy goods in shallow waters, and tugboats, powerful vessels built to tow or maneuver other vessels, play crucial roles in the maritime industry. However, the environments in which they operate are fraught with hazards. When maritime employers fail to maintain seaworthy vessels or emphasize safety, the crews that work on tugboats and barges may suffer catastrophic injuries or even death.

Recognized nationwide as a leader in maritime law, Arnold & Itkin fights for the interests of those who have been injured or lost loved ones in barge and tugboat accidents. Our attorneys have recovered more than $20 billion for good people who have experienced the worst circumstances. We take on maritime cases nationwide.

Have you been injured in a tugboat or barge accident? Contact our team today for a free, confidential consultation. We’re here to help you rebuild and recover.

Table of Contents

Barges: Dry Cargo, Liquid Cargo, Tank & Jack-Up

Barges are primarily used for transporting goods in bulk via rivers and canals. In the United States, a typical barge may measure approximately 195 feet by 35 feet, with the capacity to carry up to 1,500 tons of cargo. 

Some newer barges measure up to 209 feet by 50 feet and boast the ability to hold twice the cargo tonnage. Barges are particularly advantageous for their cost-effectiveness and ability to navigate through waters where deeper-hulled ships might have difficulty. Often, if not self-propelled, they are moved using tugboats or towboats.

There are many different types of barges used in the maritime industry today, including:

  • Dry Cargo Barges: Used for transporting dry bulk items like grain, coal, and sand.
  • Liquid Cargo Barges: Designed to transport liquid goods such as oil, chemicals, and other liquids.
  • Deck Barges: Flat deck vessels used to carry cargo that doesn’t need protection from the elements.
  • Crane Barges: Fitted with cranes for heavy lifting, often used in offshore construction.
  • Jack-Up Barges: A type of movable drilling platform used for oil exploration in shallow waters.
  • Accommodation Barges: Equipped with living quarters, used to house workers near offshore job sites.
  • Tank Barges: Specifically designed to transport gases and liquids in bulk.

According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers publication Waterborne Transportation Lines of the United States, there were 38,011 U.S. flagged barges in operation in internal waterways and on the Atlantic, Gulf, and Pacific Coasts in 2019. 19,580 (51.5%) of these vessels were more than 15 years old.

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Tugboats & Push Boats

Tugboats and push boats are versatile vessels primarily used in harbors, along coastlines, and on inland waterways. 

Tugboats are powerful for their size and are designed to tow or pull ships, often assisting larger vessels in docking or undocking in congested harbors or navigating through challenging waters. They can also tow disabled ships, oil rigs, and barges. Push boats, on the other hand, are designed to push barges and are often seen in river and canal systems transporting commodities. They align themselves at the stern of a barge or a series of barges, creating an integrated unit for efficient navigation. Both vessels play crucial roles in ensuring safe and effective maritime operations, with their importance underscored in areas with heavy shipping traffic or challenging navigational conditions.

Capable of towing or pushing up to 20 barges at a time, depending on the type of cargo and vessel, tugboats and push boats are an integral part of the maritime industry. In 2019, there were 5,820 U.S. flagged tugboats and push boats in operation in internal waterways and on the Atlantic, Gulf, and Pacific Coasts. 4,363 of these vessels were more than 15 years old; 3,767 were more than 25 years old. 

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Tugboat & Barge Accidents: Common Hazards

Working on a barge or tugboat presents a unique set of dangers due to the nature of the environment and the tasks associated with these vessels. These hazards include:

  • Harsh weather conditions
  • Slippery decks
  • Winches, cranes, and hoists
  • Taut towing lines
  • Heavy lifting
  • Confined spaces
  • Chemical exposure
  • Collisions and allisions
  • Groundings
  • Man overboard incidents

As barge injury attorneys, we recognize that these hazards exist, but they must be addressed and mitigated by maritime employers. There is no excuse for safety lapses that lead to serious accidents and injuries.

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Slip, Trip & Fall Accidents on Barges & Tugboats

Slipping and falling on a barge or tugboat is particularly dangerous because of the risk of falling overboard. Even if a worker does not fall into the water, they may experience severe trauma by falling into equipment or cargo. With the combination of moving vessels and slick surfaces, slip and fall accidents are a known hazard on barges and tugs.

OSHA recommends that all maritime employees keep walking and working surfaces clean, dry, and unobstructed to avoid trip, slip, and fall dangers. Maritime employers must also:

  • Clean up all spills immediately
  • Stack materials in stable piles
  • Secure gear and equipment that are not being used

Employers can also avoid tripping and slipping hazards on tugs and barges by painting hazards a different color and having de-icing procedures in place for times when frozen water may accumulate. Maritime supervisors should not allow workers to paint over non-skid protective deck compounds and should repair all leaks in valves, hoses, and pipelines. All maritime employees on barges and tugboats should wear safety shoes or boots with slip-resistant soles when necessary. It is also important for employers to stress the danger of running on barges and towboats.

Employers should train employees on the dangers of:

  • Climbing on stacked materials
  • Stepping on hatch covers
  • Walking on the unguarded edge of a barge
  • Jumping from one barge to another

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Equipment Dangers on Barges & Tugs

Barges and tugboats are normally equipped with heavy machinery, such as hoists, cranes, derricks, and winches. This can be dangerous for employees who are constantly working around large pieces of equipment. OSHA writes that many employees suffer injuries to their hands, feet, and limbs because of moving machinery. Sometimes employees are pinned under loads or fall off equipment and are injured this way.

OSHA suggests employers implement these safety precautions:

  • Inspect all equipment before use
  • Ensure that all employees are trained to work equipment
  • Make sure emergency shut-off valves are easily accessible
  • Install necessary rails so equipment will not slide
  • Keep retaining pins installed and secured with locking devices
  • Maintain all equipment properly
  • Implement appropriate lockout/tagout procedures

By using the above strategies, employers will be able to protect employees from equipment and machinery dangers. 

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Chemical Exposure & Oxygen Deprivation

Maritime employers must ensure the safety of their workers, especially on barges or other vessels that house hazardous chemicals, gases, and flammable materials. They must also protect their workers from the risks associated with confined spaces on barges and tugs, such as tanks or cargo holds, which are often cramped and not designed for continuous occupancy. 

These spaces can pose serious hazards due to limited access, poor ventilation, and the potential accumulation of toxic gases or a lack of oxygen. The risk is further compounded in scenarios where cleaning or maintenance work involves the use of hazardous chemicals, which can lead to exposure to harmful substances. This can result in the release of toxic fumes or gases, increasing the risk of inhalation injuries or asphyxiation. In addition, the enclosed nature of these spaces can trap these hazardous atmospheres, making them more concentrated and dangerous.

OSHA defines the obligations of maritime employers, emphasizing the need to protect employees from:

  • Oxygen deprivation
  • Environments with combustible elements
  • Presence of toxic substances

This includes monitoring the air quality within confined spaces, ensuring proper ventilation, and using appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) to safeguard against chemical exposure. Regular training for barge workers on how to safely enter and work in confined spaces, handle hazardous materials, and respond to emergencies is crucial. This training should also emphasize the importance of understanding the properties of the chemicals they might encounter, including their potential health risks and the necessary precautions for safe handling.

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Fire Hazards

On barges, tugboats, and all vessels, maritime employers must recognize and mitigate the dangers posed by chemical reactions or open flames that could trigger fires or explosions. 

OSHA mandates that engine fuel containers and compressed gas reservoirs be stored correctly, away from any ignition sources. Employers should prominently display appropriate warning signs near these hazardous materials and maintain only essential quantities onboard. When tasks involve potential ignition sources, maritime employers must ensure the availability and accessibility of fire extinguishing equipment. 

Procedures should be in place to monitor oxygen and acetylene hoses during use. The employer must provide workers with the tools and protocols to manage sparks during hot work, including shields to protect fuel sources from potential ignition. Moreover, to prevent electrical fires, maritime employers must guarantee that electrical systems are installed and regularly inspected by qualified marine electricians. Regular checks for wire corrosion are also essential to ensure safety.

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Can I File Suit After a Barge Injury or Tugboat Accident?

According to the latest information from OSHA, between 1997 and 2006, 305 employees were killed on barge/tow combination vessels; 379 explosions and fires occurred on barges or tow boats. 

Barge accident search and a tugboat accident searchon OSHA’s website reveal numerous barge fatalities in recent years. Most incidents involved crew members who lost their lives after falling overboard or after being crushed by cargo or between vessels. Other incidents involved carbon dioxide poisoning, heavy equipment, and falls from heights. 

In addition to providing proper lifesaving equipment, such as lifejackets, maritime employers of all kinds must take appropriate measures to protect barge and tugboat workers from hazards. This includes properly maintaining vessels and all equipment on board, plus providing proper fire extinguishing equipment and ventilation. All crew members must be trained so they can perform their jobs and respond in the event of an emergency. 

When workers on barges or tugboats are injured, they have the right to seek fair compensation for the harm they have suffered. Maritime law offers various protections and ways for crew members to hold at-fault parties accountable, depending on the type of incident and its cause. 

After a barge or tugboat accident, you may have grounds for a case under:

As tugboat and barge accident attorneys who have considerable experience with these cases, our team understands which laws apply and how to best secure fair compensation for injured crew members and their families. When you contact our firm for a consultation, we can consider which laws may apply to your case and how to best proceed.

Talk to a Barge Accident Attorney: (888) 346-5024

Working on a barge is one of the most dangerous offshore jobs. Heavy, taut lines can give way suddenly under the pressures of weather, rolling seas, or other environmental factors. Equipment and wet lines can be extremely heavy, but all too often, insufficient deckhands are assigned to tasks, resulting in serious lifting injuries. 

The injuries caused by a tugboat or barge accident may impact every area of a worker’s life. Some incidents claim crew members’ lives, leaving their families to cope without their love and support. When companies put profits over safety and workers are injured or killed as a result, Arnold & Itkin stands up and fights to set things right. This includes holding at-fault parties accountable and seeking compensation to help the worker and their family rebuild. 

From medical expenses to lost earnings and emotional trauma, the cost of a barge or tugboat accident can be monumental. If you have been injured while working on or around any type of maritime vessel, our offshore injury lawyers are here to help. We have the resources to investigate any accident to reveal its true cause and who should be held responsible. Whether under the Jones Act or other maritime law, we can work to see justice served. No matter what.

Contact a barge injury lawyer today at (888) 346-5024. Your consultation is free.

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