Maritime Amputation: Risks & Safety Measures
Commercial fishermen, offshore workers, and all seamen are at risk of experiencing one of the most devastating injuries: amputation. A hand, finger, foot, or another part of the body may be completely severed in a maritime accident or may be damaged to such an extent that it must be surgically amputated, causing significant physical and emotional trauma—not to mention impacting the worker’s ability to perform the same job or even routine activities like tying their shoes or walking.
Some amputation injuries are fatal, due to blood loss or infection.
The risk of amputation is high in the maritime industry because of the nature of the work performed and the equipment that must be used to complete it. Winches, cranes, mooring lines, and any machines with moving parts present risks if they are improperly operated or maintained. Negligence and unseaworthiness can lead to an accident that claims a crew member’s hand, arm, finger, or foot.
Floorhand Loses 3 Fingers on Platform in Gulf of Mexico
At 4:20 pm on August 13, 2020, a floorhand on the Helmerich & Payne (H&P) 100 platform in the Gulf of Mexico lost 3 fingers while working out of a riding belt above the rig floor. The floorhand was guiding wireline out of the hole when it suddenly pulled out of the rope socket, hitting the top of the lubricator and amputating three fingers on his left hand. He received treatment by the rig medic at the scene and was then transported by Medivac for further treatment. The platform was under contract for Talos at the time of the incident.
Floorhands, also called roughnecks, hold entry-level positions on offshore platforms. They often perform a considerable amount of manual labor, like setting up and taking down equipment, assisting derrickhands, repairing and maintaining equipment, and much more. They are at a high risk of experiencing traumatic amputation if equipment fails or if they are not properly trained on how to do their jobs.
The cause of the incident that claimed the floorhand’s fingers on August 13 is not readily apparent on the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) website, it appears that equipment failure or improper operation may have caused the rope to slip from the socket.
Maritime employers have a few key obligations when it comes to preventing amputation and other serious injuries:
- First, they must properly maintain the equipment and machinery that presents amputation risks.
- Second, they must ensure all applicable crew members are trained on how to operate or work near this equipment or machinery.
- Third, all crew members must be provided with appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) based on their job duties and location on the vessel.
Physical Guards & Safety Measures to Prevent Amputation
Proper guarding is one of the most important aspects of equipment maintenance on an offshore rig or any maritime vessel. Guards and other physical devices can be placed on equipment to prevent a worker from coming into contact with it in the first place. However, this type of guarding is not always possible on a vessel.
When physical guards cannot be placed on equipment or machinery, employers are responsible for implementing training and safety measures that will prevent contact. An example may be implementing lockout-tagout procedures when equipment needs to be cleaned or maintained. Another example may be a kill switch that automatically engages if anything becomes entangled in a machine or line.
Recovering After Maritime Amputation/Loss of Limb
The true impact of an amputation injury should not be underestimated. Depending on the part of the body that was affected, the cost of medical treatment could range from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars. When you consider the impact that amputation may have on one’s ability to work, the lifetime cost of amputation could easily add up to millions of dollars.
Amputation-related medical costs may include:
- Initial hospitalization, including surgery and infection prevention
- Rehospitalization for ongoing care
- Inpatient rehabilitation
- Outpatient physical and occupational therapy
- Prosthetic devices
- Assistive devices, medication, and medical supplies
- Travel costs to and from medical appointments
The psychological impact of amputation must also be considered. This type of trauma can lead to depression, anxiety, insomnia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other conditions. Mental healthcare and emotional trauma must be given due consideration.
Seamen and offshore workers who have experienced amputation may be entitled to compensation under the Jones Act (if negligence was involved), the doctrine of unseaworthiness (if an unseaworthy vessel was to blame), or the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (for longshoremen and harbor workers). The ideal approach and type of claim will depend on the nature of the accident, where it occurred, the type of maritime worker, and what caused the incident.
There Are No Excuses for Maritime Amputation
Heavy machinery, winches, and other equipment will present amputation risks, but that does not excuse any accidents that occur. Like other offshore injuries, amputation is preventable. At Arnold & Itkin, we are committed to defending the interests of maritime workers who have been injured because the companies they work for decided profits were more important than safety. Cut corners, improperly maintained equipment, and lax safety training can cause life-changing injuries—we are here to hold at-fault parties accountable. Find out how we can help you by calling (888) 346-5024. Your consultation is confidential and completely free.