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Hazards Which Impact Shipyard Workers Past and Present

2 May 2019

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Shipyard workers are exposed to many hazards in the workplace. TRUE Solicitors LLP investigates the most common causes of accidents in shipyards and which industrial diseases shipyard workers (past and present) are at risk of contracting.

Asbestos related disease

Historically shipyard workers were exposed to dangerously high levels of asbestos. Asbestos was used as a ship building material in the UK for decades, as an insulating material for steam and hot water pipes, boilers and incinerators.

Shipyard workers who carried out lagging, joiners, sheet metal workers and boiler makers are most at risk of developing an asbestos related disease. Breathing in asbestos dust or fibres can lead to damage of the lungs and a range of associated respiratory conditions and diseases such as:

  • Asbestos – related lung cancer.
  • Asbestosis – Inflammatory scarring of the lungs.
  • Mesothelioma – An aggressive cancer of the lining of the lungs, heart or abdomen.
  • Pleural thickening – thickening of the lining of the lungs.
  • Pleural plaques
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

Asbestos related disease can affect the person years after their initial exposure. It can also affect those who live with a shipyard worker, as asbestos particles can be transferred home on their clothing. It is particularly prominent in heavy shipbuilding regions and cities around the UK such as Tyneside, Teesside, Liverpool, Southampton, Portsmouth, Barrow-in-Furness and Chatham.

TRUE Solicitors are experienced in handling Industrial Disease claims on behalf of those and their family members affected by asbestos related disease.

Shipyard hazards and Industrial Disease

The main hazards shipyard workers are exposed to at work include:

  • Chemical burns: Corrosive and dangerous chemicals such as solvents, acids, gasoline and paints are used in abundance in shipbuilding. Employees should be provided with the appropriate personal protection equipment (PPE) to prevent and minimise the effects of chemical burns.
  • Hearing loss: Workers in shipyards are exposed to high levels of noise from caulking machines and grinders. Ear plugs and ear defenders should be worn to minimise damage to hearing. Unfortunately this wasn’t mandatory for many years leaving many, now retired, shipyard workers with noise-induced hearing loss – such as tinnitus.
  • Respiratory illness: Breathing in toxic fumes, chemicals and particles such as asbestos can cause many respiratory illnesses such as asbestosis, mesothelioma and COPD. All of which can be life threatening.
  • Inhalation of toxic fumes and chemicals: Shipbuilding and shipbreaking (the breaking down of old ships) involves the use of toxic chemicals which include harmful substances like lead, chromium, copper and nickel.
  • Slips, trips and falls: Working up scaffolding or up a height using ladders in tight, confirmed spaces, is common place in shipyards. There is therefore always the risk of slipping, tripping or falling from a height which can result in serious injuries. Falling from a height can lead to serious injuries such as spinal cord and brain damage.
  • Machinery accidents: Shipyards are filled with large scale, heavy duty machinery that requires great skill and strength to handle. Employees that haven’t been adequately trained to use machinery risk causing a serious injury to themselves and others.
  • Electrocution and shock hazards: Shipyards are generally wet environments surrounded by electrical equipment. Workers who handle electrical equipment are exposed to the risk of getting an electric shock or being electrocuted. Workers should always check for damaged wiring when operating portable electric tools and report any damages to power cables, extension cords, lighting and shipboard wiring immediately.They need to be mindful when doing any form of electrical installation work or repairs; and be wary of the chance of malfunctioning electrical connections at joint sources like fuse panels, generators and switchboards. When working close to overhead power lines it is important to maintain a distance of at least ten feet from themselves and their equipment. It is essential to check that all electrical equipment, cords and tools are grounded.

HAVS Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome

People who use hand held power tools and machinery in their day to day jobs can develop Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS). This effects the nerves and blood vessels in the hands. It causes a tingling and sensation of numbness in the fingers, which can be very uncomfortable for the person effected. Symptoms also include lack of feeling in the fingers, loss of strength in hands, and fingers turning bright white then going red, causing pain when hands return back to their normal state.

Shipyard workers, who use equipment such as pneumatic drills and grinders, sanders, polishers, hand-held saws for concrete, every day are prone to developing HAVS.

Industrial Dermatitis

Industrial dermatitis occurs when employees are exposed to harmful chemicals such as paints and solvents.

There are two different types of dermatitis – irritant contact dermatitis and allergic contact dermatitis. Irritant contact dermatitis causes skin to become inflamed and red due to exposure to elements including acids, alkalis, solvents and cleaning products. The damage can lead to skin cracking and bleeding; and can spread over the body if left untreated and exposed.

Allergic contact dermatitis is the result of a person developing an allergic reaction to repeated, or prolonged exposure to substances or materials worked with. Employees who work with materials such as rubber, latex, nickel and metal are prone to developing allergic contact dermatitis.

Shipyard workers are prone to developing industrial contact dermatitis due to their exposure to toxic chemicals like solvents, petrol, copper and chromium. Employers should provide their staff with the appropriate PPE, such as gloves, face masks and long sleeved clothing; and keep areas well ventilated to avoid the risk of employees developing contact dermatitis.

If you or a family member has suffered an industrial disease due to their time working in shipyards, you may be entitled to make a personal injury claim. At TRUE Solicitors LLP, we have a wealth of experience pursuing asbestos-related injury compensation claims and can advise you and your family on all aspects of your claim. Our ‘No Win, No Fee’ service means there is no financial risk to you.

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