Shipbreaking is the process of dismantling a vessel's structure so it can be scrapped. When a ship is wrecked or is no longer useful, crews will be asked to perform the shipbreaking procedure. Because it is often difficult to get these ships out of the water, most shipbreaking is done at a pier, a dry dock, or a dismantling slip. Shipbreaking is an involved process with many steps and can involve anything from removing parts to recycling the ship's body.
Shipbreaking comes with a variety of hazards that can cause injury or even death in some circumstances. Workers can suffer from asbestos exposure because of the asbestos in the insulation of the ship, the cables, the lagging, or other parts of the vessel. Workers are also often working with a fire hazard as they try to break the ship using powerful tools. If sparks land on flammable insulation, lagging, residual fuel, lubricants, flammable liquids, or matting it could result in an explosion or a harmful blaze.
Workers are also at risk to ear damage because of the loud noises associated with shipbreaking. The OSHA says that shipbreaking involves hammering, metal cutting, and grinding, which can cause permanent ear damage if workers aren't provided with proper ear protection. Workers can also be exposed to hazardous chemicals and materials that are in the paint coatings, thermometers, or ballast tanks of the ship. Mercury poisoning is a risk during shipbreaking as the element is located in light tubes, electrical switches, fire detectors, and tank-level indicators.
Workers also run the risk of polychlorinated biphenyls exposure which can be found in rubber products like hoses, silver paint, habitability paint, plates, and plastic foam insulation. There is also lead in the paints, batteries, motor components, and generators of the ship. Any worker who is in the business of shipbreaking should be aware of all of these exposure risks when they start on the job. Employers should do all that they can to prevent workers from exposure by providing them with protective clothing and any other means necessary.
Workers who are in the shipbreaking industry have to do a variety of jobs that come with the immediate danger. Among these are the danger of entry into confined and enclosed spaces, and the danger of metal cutting and disposal. Workers are often expected to cut and weld on the ships using compressed gas, and toe stand on scaffolds, ladders, and other services where there is a present falling hazard. Oil / fuel removal and tank cleaning can expose workers to chemicals or flammable sources. Bilge / ballast water removal also comes with risks.
As well, workers have to do paint removal which can lead to lead exposure, and often have to work on elevated surfaces near deck openings and edges. Workers also need to work with industrial truck operations and need to use cranes, gear, and other heavy equipment to handle materials. All of these risks are heightened when employees are not given proper training and lack the personal protective equipment that they need to do their job. Employers should also ensure that fire protection measures are taken at the workplace and that there are emergency response teams, rescue teams, and first-aid personnel nearby in the event of an emergency.
If you are a shipbreaker and were injured on-the-job, you may be entitled to worker's compensation or a personal injury settlement. Contact an attorney today to learn more!
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