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Steven M. Lee, PC

Why Tight Spaces Increase Mariner Injury Risks

Working in close quarters in a shipyard or on a vessel may make injuries more likelyWhether or not you’re afraid of tight spaces (claustrophobia), small and confined work areas offer a wide range of potential hazards. Unfortunately, these risks are even greater when the workspace is in a shipyard, on a boat, or near water.

Shipyards play an important role in the maritime industry. Maritime shipyard workers keep all types of vessels safely maintained and operating effectively. However, as men and women confine themselves in tight quarters to keep seamen safe and productive, they expose themselves to an array of dangers. In fact, the working conditions in shipyards place workers at twice the risk for sustaining workplace injuries than their general industry counterparts, including construction workers.

Fire Dangers

When working in a limited space, surrounded by metal, water, and machinery, it’s important that you’re acutely aware of fire, toxic exposure, and asphyxiation. Ships and shipyards are notorious for containing combustible materials like chemicals and oil, as well as incendiary tools such as welding torches and band saws that create sparks. When you place these materials in close proximity to one another, you have the makings of an inferno.

The factors that make the risks even higher in cramped spaces include:

  • Increased risk for burns. When a fire breaks out in an open space, it has room to spread and disperse its heat. When a fire is confined in a small area, its heat builds up on itself, turning the small space into an oven. Furthermore, as the flames get hotter and feed on the limited oxygen in the room, the fire will expand quickly throughout the space as it searches for more fuel and oxygen. This accelerated inferno places everyone in its path at risk for serious burns.
  • Increased exposure time. Smaller work areas are cramped with tools, machinery, and co-workers. If a fire breaks out, you must be able to traverse through a maze of obstacles to escape. In many cases, this feat is nearly impossible as disorganization and panic cause bottlenecks and chaos. As a result, workers are exposed to the danger for a longer period than if the fire were in an open area.
  • Increased risk of asphyxiation. Fire needs oxygen to survive. Unfortunately, so do you. As a flame consumes oxygen and spells carbon monoxide, the air becomes unbreathable. When the fire has consumed more than 50% of the oxygen in the area—which won’t take long in a confined space—there won’t be enough air for your cells and tissue to function. This oxygen depletion can also occur as a result of toxic fumes and accidental chemical spills, causing the fumes to displace the area’s oxygen. As a result, your cells will die and your brain will shut down.

Proximity Dangers

A confined workspace is often a cramped workspace. As a result, when working on a piece of equipment, you’re forced to contort yourself around, under, above, and sometimes in the equipment to reach the piece you need. Combine this restricted movement with the added closeness of fellow workers, and you’ve got a tight space where you’re incapable of free movement. These factors can not only be uncomfortable, but also dangerous.

Close proximity risks include:

  • Increased vulnerability. Confined spaces limit your ability to move freely. As a result, each motion, each step, and each action must be calculated to avoid injury. Unfortunately, co-workers, moving equipment, and broken tools don’t always take your calculations into account. Consequently, the lack of maneuverability causes an increase of vulnerability for bumps, bruises, falls, and accidents.
  • Decreased odds of rescue. When a room is crammed with machinery, sometimes only two or three people can fit in. When an emergency occurs and the workers are trapped in a tight area, rescuer may not be able to maneuver around them to address the problem. In some cases, lack of mobility mean no one can even sound an alarm or summon help.

Protection From Accidents and Injuries in Close Quarters

Confined spaces aid in increasing the risks of an already dangerous job. However, the truth of the matter is that shipyards, no matter where you work, can be dangerous places—the hazards are truly everywhere. Whether you’re climbing ladders, doing electrical work, staging scaffolding, or working on piping systems, many different things can go wrong if you, your co-workers, and your employer are not careful.

If you’ve been injured working on a ship, you need to seek the legal advice of an experienced maritime lawyer like Steven M. Lee. With over four decades’ worth of experience, attorney Steve Lee can help you break free from the confinement of a maritime injury claim. He has the resources and know-how to help you pursue a strong and successful claim, without restraint. Call the number on this page to schedule your FREE one-on-one consultation and see how we can help you during your recovery.


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