MARITIME SAFETY AND HEALTH STUDIES
Image of a container vessel. Photo by: @ilfede iStock/Getty Images Plus
Marine transportation workers perform various tasks while working on waterborne vessels that transport goods and people, or perform services. Many sub-industries within marine transportation use specialized vessels to accomplish specific duties or transport-specific cargo. Examples of this include tug and towboats, barges, container ships, bulk cargo ships, and ferry and cruise passenger vessels.
Marine transportation workers face a variety of unique work hazards1,2. Physical hazards include noise levels, vibration, ultraviolet light exposure, line handling, heavy lifting, slippery surfaces, steep ladders, and narrow passageways, and can be exacerbated by severe weather conditions. Chemical hazards include exposures to chemical cargos, fuel, cleansers, and diesel exhaust. Biological hazards include the transmission of contagious diseases between coworkers and travel-related infections. Psychosocial risks remain a significant challenge,3-8 including social isolation, language barriers, circadian rhythm disruption, substance abuse, low job control/high demand, harassment/bullying (43% prevalence in Nautilus study),9, and the fear of piracy internationally. Additionally, the months-long assignments with restricted shore leave raise the possibility that workers could face decreased or delayed access to medical care.
In 2016, there were approximately 67,000 workers in the U.S. water transportation industry.10 Inland waterways represents around 26,000 workers. Deep-Sea, Coastal, and Great Lakes Water Transportation represent about 36,000 workers11. From 2011–2017, there were 87 fatal injuries (18.4 per 100,000 workers)12 among marine transportation workers, nearly six times the rate of all U.S. workers. Studies show a high burden of fatalities due to cardiovascular conditions, work accidents, drownings (including from vessel disasters), suicides, and workplace violence.13,5 BLS data on the U.S. workforce (2011–2017) indicate a substantial number of deaths due to workplace violence and drownings. In the same period, there were approximately 11,000 nonfatal occupational injuries.14 Seafarers experience high rates of injury and illness,15,16 with a high proportion of upper extremity, lower extremity, and back injuries resulting in disability.12