Working on board a barge can be stressful and hazardous. Essential for transporting goods across the country, barge workers are under a lot of pressure to work quickly and keep cargo moving. When employer demand, unsafe conditions, negligent coworkers, or other dangers cause a serious injury, barge workers might have a claim for compensation under the Jones Act. Even though barges operate on inland waterways such as rivers and canals, employees are still covered under U.S. maritime law. We explain what remedies might be available to injured barge workers and how our maritime lawyers can help.
Dangers of Barge Work in New York and New Jersey
Barges employ a range of workers, including pilots, mates, deckhands, loaders, cooks, oilers, and engineers. Depending on the type of barge and the cargo that is being handled, workers face a variety of hazards that can cause serious injuries. The types of barges we see on waterways in the U.S. include the following:
Dry cargo barges
Used for transporting various dry goods such as grain, coal, aggregates, or general cargo, these vessels typically have open decks or compartments for easy loading and unloading. Workers may face hazards associated with heavy lifting, potential cargo shifting, and the risk of falling overboard during loading or unloading operations.
Designed for transporting liquids such as petroleum products, chemicals, or liquefied gases, these barges often have internal tanks or compartments to hold the cargo securely. Workers on tank barges may encounter risks related to handling hazardous materials, such as exposure to toxic substances, fire or explosion hazards, and the potential for leaks or spills.
Used in maritime construction, marine salvage projects, and pipeline operations, spud barges are large platforms that can be moored alongside a worksite and loaded with heavy materials. Workers are exposed to the same risks as construction workers on land but face additional risks associated with marine work.
Equipped with a crane or multiple cranes, these barges are used for heavy lifting and construction purposes. They are commonly employed in bridge construction, offshore installations, or other marine construction projects. Workers on crane barges face hazards associated with operating heavy machinery, including the risk of accidents during lifting operations, potential falls from heights, and crane-related incidents such as collapses or equipment failures.
These flat-bottomed barges have open decks and can transport oversized cargo and construction materials or be used as a stable platform for various marine operations. Workers on deck barges may be exposed to risks such as slipping and tripping hazards, falling overboard, or injuries related to moving heavy equipment or cargo.
Used for excavation and dredging activities, these barges remove sediment, rocks, or debris from waterways to maintain navigable channels or reclaim land. Workers on dredging barges may face hazards such as moving parts of dredging equipment, unstable seabed conditions, potential contact with underwater utilities or structures, and the risk of entrapment in the dredging process.
Living quarters barges
These barges are designed to accommodate workers for extended periods during offshore or remote operations, such as oil rig maintenance or construction projects. Workers on living quarters barges may face risks associated with living and working in confined spaces, potential exposure to harsh weather conditions, and transportation risks when moving between the barge and other vessels.
Barge employers have a responsibility to provide a safe working environment, conduct regular inspections, and implement adequate safety measures to mitigate the dangers and protect the well-being of workers on board barges. When employers fail in this duty, workers suffer traumatic brain injuries, back trauma, slip and fall injuries, amputation injuries, and more. Some barge accident injuries prove to be fatal.
Jones Act Compensation for on-the-Job Barge Injuries
As a barge worker, depending on the type of work you do, you may be considered a longshoreman under the Longshore and Harbor Worker’s Compensation Act, or you may be considered a seaman.
If you are covered by the Longshore Act, then you receive Worker’s Compensation under a federal Worker’s Compensation law. Depending on the circumstances, you may have a third-party negligence claim against the vessel itself, or against other parties, who caused your injury.
If you are considered to be a seaman under the Jones Act, then you have two important rights. The first is to sue your employer for negligence for causing your injury, and the second is to receive maintenance and cure.
As seamen who are covered by maritime law, barge workers who are injured while in service to their vessel are entitled to maintenance and cure at least until they reach maximum medical improvement. Maintenance refers to a seaman’s day-to-day living expenses, while cure applies to their medical costs. Employers must pay maintenance and cure until the seaman is fit for duty or has reached a point where they are not expected to improve any further.