Barge workers who make their living on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers here in Kentucky face hazardous conditions each day. The Occupational Safety and Health Organization (OSHA) documented more than 300 deaths over a 10-year period, while thousands more were injured.

OSHA provides guidance to companies on preventing injuries and illnesses that can result from workplace hazards on barges across the U.S. Many of those injuries, as well as fatalities, could have been prevented with proper training and procedures.

What are the main hazards?

OSHA says the four types of dangers that occur most frequently on barges are:

  • Slips, trips and falls: These incidents are a significant cause of workplace injuries in the maritime industry and can lead to workers falling overboard. Some of the contributing factors include obstructions in walking paths, slippery surfaces, poor visibility, unsuitable footwear and fatigue.
  • Equipment and machinery hazards: Incidents involving heavy equipment and machines can cause head injuries, and hands, feet or limbs being caught in moving machinery, workers being pinned under equipment, falling and electric shock.
  • Enclosed/confined space hazards: These areas can contain hazardous or toxic chemicals, explosive or flammable materials, or lack oxygen, causing asphyxiation. Rusted tanks often do not have enough oxygen to support human life for workers making repairs.
  • Falling overboard: If a barge does not have a railing system made to OSHA specifications, workers walking on deck must wear Coast Guard-approved life jackets or buoyant work vests. These life-saving devices must be fully zipped, snapped or buckled whenever there is a danger of falling into the water.

Understanding protections for maritime workers

Barge workers have different rights than other employees who are injured on the job. The Jones Act requires injured parties to prove negligence on the part of their employer. If you have been injured while working on a barge here in Kentucky, a lawyer experienced in maritime law can help you get the compensation you deserve.