Worker on the Ship DeckOverexertion, or working past the point of exhaustion, is a significant factor in occupational injuries. Seamen are especially at risk for overexertion injuries due to the long hours and highly physical nature involved in their work. However, the maritime employer must make the workplace as safe as possible—and an experienced Jones Act injury attorney can determine if an injury occurred because your vessel was unseaworthy.

Overexertion Injuries Suffered by Maritime Workers

An overexertion injury can happen in two ways: when a job causes physical fatigue or when a task is beyond one person’s capabilities. Neither of these factors is the worker’s fault since employers must address the imbalance between workers' physical capacity and the demands of the job.

Common maritime overexertion injuries include:

  • Strains and sprains. Maritime work requires repeated lifting, pushing, pulling, and holding. Even seamen with high strength and stamina can suffer muscle tears or soft-tissue damage.
  • Back injuries. Over half of all overexertion injuries affect the back, subjecting Jones Act seamen to paralysis, nerve damage, or loss of function in the legs (paraplegia).
  • Shoulder injuries. Fishermen are at high risk of rotator cuff injuries and other shoulder damage from throwing pots and nets, while cargo crews may experience pinched nerves from carrying heavy loads.

Jones Act Seamen May Have Valid Negligence Claims for Overexertion

Adequate training is vital to preventing overexertion injuries at sea. The physical nature of maritime work can lead to misconceptions about day-to-day tasks and the proper safety procedures involved in each one. In particular, employees should be trained on how to manually lift heavy materials, such as making multiple trips and carrying loads close to the body. They should also know the steps to take if someone shows signs of overexertion.

The Jones Act provides many remedies for compensating seamen for their injuries. In addition to maintenance and cure payments, seamen might be eligible to file a lawsuit against an employer or shipowner whose negligence caused their injuries.

Other examples of negligence may include:

  • Failure to have a proper injury response plan. Overexertion injuries can lead to permanent disabilities, so there should be a written response plan to start treatment immediately. Typical interventions include rest, hydration, medication, or immobilization.
  • Failure to provide adequate breaks. Seamen are often required to work for several hours without rest, pushing their bodies past the point of exhaustion. Employers should ensure that seamen are given regular breaks that are long enough to give their muscles adequate rest. Employers can also prevent dehydration and muscle fatigue by providing enough water so that each employee can drink at least one quart every hour. Any worker showing signs of fatigue should be pulled from duty for a five-minute rest break.
  • Failure to provide a full crew. If there are not enough crew members on board, seamen might be asked to perform tasks beyond their physical capabilities. Even if mechanical means of lifting are provided, workers often overestimate how much weight they can carry.
  • Failure to provide the appropriate tools. Shipowners must provide the necessary equipment to perform all essential functions of the ship safely. Failure to provide tools or design tasks ergonomically are significant contributors to overexertion injuries because they require extra time and physical effort to complete a task. 
  • Failure to modify work in extreme temperatures. Freezing weather or extreme heat can cause a seaman’s muscles to become fatigued more quickly. Employers should reserve lighter work and shorter hours during temperature extremes whenever possible, rotating on-duty seamen more frequently to prevent frostbite or heatstroke injuries.

Tell Your Story to a Maritime Injury Lawyer Today

If you suffer an overexertion injury while working on your vessel, we advise you not to sign anything until you have spoken to a lawyer about your accident. The experienced maritime attorneys at Hofmann & Schweitzer can protect your rights—and we don’t collect any payment unless we win your case. Call us at 1-800-362-9329 or learn more about your claim in our complimentary guide, Are You a Seaman Injured in a Maritime Accident? Know Your Rights.


Paul T. Hofmann
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Focused on personal injury, with an emphasis on maritime, railroad and construction worker tort claims.