For centuries, working on ships was men’s work. In the 21st century, there are women working on board ships, but they make up less than two percent of the workforce. This likely explains why the standard term for ship crewmembers—seamen—persists today. However, the number of women seafarers grows every year, and there is no reason not to believe that maritime work will become a more attractive career option for women looking for a challenging job. As more women enter the maritime industry, it’s important to be aware of the unique hazards and risks of injury and illness they face on the job.
Maritime Hazards Faced by Women Working on Board Ships
As a job that requires physical labor, travel away from home, and tight quarters with co-workers, maritime work exposes both male and female employees to unusual risks of injury and illness. However, because the industry has been dominated by men for so long, the unique safety challenges women face on board ships have not been addressed by many maritime employers. Some of these hazards include:
- Physical demands. Certain tasks, such as lifting heavy equipment or working in confined spaces, may be more physically challenging for women due to differences in strength and body size compared to their male counterparts. When accommodations and safety measures are not provided, female workers can suffer high rates of musculoskeletal injuries.
- Inadequate protective gear. Some protective gear and clothing provided on board ships may not be designed to fit women properly, potentially compromising their safety.
- Inadequate training and awareness. Outdated training programs in the maritime industry may not adequately address the unique challenges faced by women or provide appropriate guidance on how to handle gender-specific issues.
- Sexual harassment and assault. Working in close quarters with male crew members can put women at higher risk of experiencing sexual harassment or assault.
- Gender discrimination. Women may face discrimination and harassment in a male-dominated work environment, which can lead to adverse effects on their mental health and job satisfaction.
- Limited accommodation for personal needs. Ships may not always have suitable facilities for women's personal needs, such as adequate restrooms or privacy for medical issues. This could contribute to undue stress and emotional strain.
- Pregnancy and family planning. The physically demanding nature of maritime work can pose challenges for pregnant women, and limited access to medical facilities while at sea can be a concern for both mother and baby.
- Reproductive hazards. Exposure to certain chemicals and materials on ships can pose reproductive hazards for women of childbearing age.
- Mental health challenges. Isolation and extended periods away from family and support networks can impact the mental well-being of women working on ships.
Maritime employers have a duty to provide a safe working environment, even if that means providing specific protections for certain workers. When an employer fails to offer appropriate safety gear, safe quarters, and a workplace with zero tolerance for harassment and assault, a Maritime and Jones Act injury lawyer can protect your rights.
Common Injuries Sustained by Women Working on Seafaring Vessels
Just like their male counterparts, women working on board ships can suffer serious and debilitating injuries such as the following:
- Musculoskeletal injuries. Strains, sprains, and muscle injuries can occur due to repetitive movements, overexertion, heavy lifting, and physically demanding tasks on board ships.
- Slip and fall injuries. Wet and slippery surfaces on deck or in work areas can lead to slip and fall accidents, resulting in bruises, fractures, or sprains.
- Crush injuries. Working with heavy equipment and cargo can pose a risk of crush injuries if proper safety precautions are not followed.
- Burns and scalds. Women working in the engine room or galley may be at risk of burns and scalds from hot surfaces, steam, or cooking equipment.
- Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS). Women using vibrating tools for extended periods may develop HAVS, causing hand pain, numbness, and loss of dexterity.
- Hearing loss. Prolonged exposure to high noise levels on ships, especially in engine rooms or near machinery, can lead to hearing impairment.
- Repetitive strain injuries (RSI). Repetitive tasks, such as operating equipment or performing manual labor, can result in RSIs like carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Respiratory problems. Exposure to hazardous materials, fumes, and confined spaces can cause respiratory problems over time.
- Mental health issues. The isolated and high-stress environment of working on board ships can lead to mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, or adjustment disorders.
If you are a woman seafarer who has been seriously injured on board your vessel, contact our team in New York to help you get the compensation you deserve.