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Maritime Electrical Accidents

It is common knowledge that water and electricity can be a deadly combination. Nevertheless, in the maritime sector, electricity and water are important components for a vessel to be able to operate. Unfortunately, this also puts the crewmembers at risk of injuries or fatalities because of maritime electrical accidents. The ramifications from a maritime electrical shock or accident can last a lifetime.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, an electric shock is the “physical stimulation or trauma caused by the flow of electricity through the human body.” Individuals suffer from physical pain, emotional anguish, injuries, deformities, and in worse case scenarios, families are left to mourn the loss of a loved one. After your maritime electrical accident, it is crucial that you seek the help of an experienced attorney for the sake of your future and your family. The injuries and trauma that you sustained because of an on-the-job electrical accident will be further complicated by the piling medical bills and rehabilitation. The healing process is extensive and expensive, and in some cases, the injured crewmember may never recover. It is in your best interest to retain the help of a skilled attorney.

Lawyer for Electric Shock in Seattle, WA

When an employee or any other person is in an accident that involves electricity, the injuries are oftentimes severe, and in tragic scenarios, the victim may lose their lives. For many years, ships have used electricity to provide power to the vessels and for interior communication (e.g., radio, radars, etc.). However, the environment makes maritime workers more likely to suffer a serious injury caused by electrocution or burns. Vessels electricians are the maritime occupation that is most vulnerable to severe injuries or fatality from accidents involving electrical systems.

Electrical shock can cause physical injury, permanent damage, and even death. It is important for sea workers to be well informed, trained, and equipped with the use of electrical power onboard a vessel. If your maritime electrical accident was caused by the negligence of the vessel owner or a crew member, you may be entitled to compensation. At Anderson Carey Williams & Neidzwski, PLLC, our dedicated and passionate maritime attorneys can help you whether your maritime shock accident injury happens in Seattle, Bellingham, Portland, San Francisco, or Los Angeles. We have over 40 years representing injured maritime workers in states along the West Coast, including Oregon, Washington, California, and Alaska. Call us at 1 (800) 262-8529 to schedule a free initial consultation or fill out a case review form at the bottom of the page.


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Common Electrical Accidents and Injuries

There are three (3) most common types of electrical accidents onboard a vessel that occurs with electrical systems. These accidents are capable of causing injuries that can be mild, severe, or lead to fatalities. Additionally, the three common types of electrical accidents are: electrical shocks – individual incidents, electrical fires – affects the entire vessel and the crew members onboard, and electrical system failures – outages can affect the entire vessel and how it operates.

  • Electrical Shocks – This can occur when crew members are not properly trained to work with electrical equipment onboard the vessel. Inadequate training and not following proper procedures while working with electrical systems is dangerous because doing something incorrectly can cause a shock. Also, a shock can happen when the equipment is not maintained properly. The consequences from a shock can range from mild discomfort to a burn, and ultimately death. The worker experiences physical pain, such as losing muscular control, severe muscular contractions, heart attacks, respiratory arrest, and nerve damage. The death of a worker is likely.
  • Electrical Fires – An electrical fire can occur because of faulty or improper maintenance of electrical equipment aboard vessels. Ship fires are extremely dangerous because they can lead to many injuries such as severe burns, crewmembers falling overboard, vessel sinking, injuries from inhaling smoke, and much more.
  • Electrical System Failures – Having an electrical outage can also be dangerous because, without power, crewmembers can slip and fall or trip and fall and sustain an injury, and without navigational systems, the vessel can collide with an object at sea or another ship. Personnel onboard can sustain back injuries, broken bones, or can lose their lives if the ship collides with a structure or another vessel.

According to OSHA, most of the electrical shock accidents that are reported occur because of unsafe or incorrectly installed equipment, and unsafe environment and practices. Per 29 CFR §1915.181, all maritime workers should have personal protective equipment and should be provided with a safe environment (i.e., suitable insulations underfoot) when working around electrical systems or equipment. The amount of damage the human body sustains after electrocution is devastating and life-changing. There are many factors that determine the severity of the injuries, such as whether chemicals were involved in the accident; the current level affects the body differently, and much more.

Below are common electrical shock hazards reported by OSHA:

  • Defective Equipment – Working with defective tools can be dangerous, and when an untrained or unqualified crewmember attempts electrical power connections, it can lead to injuries such as burn and loss of muscle control.
  • Worn or Damaged Electric Cables – Damaged wire insulation, corroded connectors, inadequate electrical isolations, failure to follow 29 CFR 1915.181 procedures such as de-energizing the circuit and lockout/tags, failure to follow 29 CFR §1915.132(b) procedure by not properly grounding circuits.
  • Lack of proper fencing, failure to provide adequate lighting in condensed spaces, exposed live wires can contribute to unsafe working conditions, and lead to electrical hazards.

A shock that is from 1 to 5 milliamperes is not too serious under certain conditions, causes a tingling sensation, and an individual is able to let go of whatever object they are touching.  A shock that is up to 20 milliamperes is painful, can cause the person to lose muscular control, breathing becomes labored, the person cannot let go of the object they are touching, and death can be possible. Electrical shocks can lead to traumatic brain injuries, the loss of muscle control can lead to spasms that can cause a worker to injure themselves or a fellow crewmember, or the employee can fall or trip.


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Prevention & Protection Against Electrical Shocks

Power failures and electrical hazards onboard can be extremely dangerous for all crewmembers’ lives and the safe operations of the vessel. Ship electricians are at high risk because they are responsible for handling electrical hazards, power failures, and other electrical systems onboard. Additionally, when there is a power failure or an electrical hazard, other personnel attempting electrical power connections, ship maintenance, or repairs are at risk of electrocution, electric shock, or worse – death.

Below are some tips to help minimize the risk of an electric shock onboard a vessel:

  1. Be sure to check all wires, electrical appliances, and equipment for abnormal sounds, temperature variations, and any loose connections.
  1. All electrical connections should be inside the panel box so that other crewmembers do not touch it accidentally.
  1. Be sure to turn off the breaker before starting any work on electrical systems.
  1. Make sure to keep in constant communication with other crewmembers and inform them about ongoing work to avoid accidents.
  1. Always have personal protective equipment (PPE), safety shoes, and use rubber mat, duckboard, or other suitable gear to avoid the risk of shock.
  1. If you do not know about the system, ask for assistance, and/or training. It is imperative that you do not work without knowing because of your safety and that of your fellow crew members will be at risk.

In the maritime workplace, it is crucial that all seamen are on the lookout for hazards that may lead to electrical accidents. Also, vessel owners should regularly inspect, maintain, and repair their vessels’ electrical systems to ensure that the vessel is seaworthy and safe. If you are a seaman who has been injured in a maritime electrical accident because of the unseaworthiness of a vessel or its crew, you may be eligible to recover for your damages under the Jones Act or another maritime law. Retaining the help of a maritime electrical shock lawyer can help you understand your legal options and what maritime policy will help you gain some normalcy in your life.


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OSHA Safety Standards & Requirements

Below are some of OSHA safety standard that must be followed to protect workers from electrical hazards during ship repairment, building, or breaking activities:

  • 29 CFR 1915.181 – The provisions apply to ship repairing and shipbuilding and not shipbreaking. (b) Before an employee is able or permitted to work on an electric circuit, the circuit must be de-energized and checked at the point in which the work is to be done. When testing or adjusting an energized circuit, the employee must use a rubber mat, duckboard, or other suitable insulations underfoot where an insulated deck does not exist. (b) Properly de-energizing the circuit should be done by opening the circuit breaker, opening the switch, or removing the fuse. (c) Also, the circuit breaker/fuse/switch should be locked or tagged per 29 CFR §1915.89.
  • 29 CFR 1915.132(a)-(d) – The provisions of this section apply to ship repairing, building, and breaking. (a) The frames of portable electric tools and appliances, except tools approved by Underwriters’ Laboratories, shall be grounded either through a third wire in the cable containing the circuit conductors or through a separate wire which is grounded at the source of the current. (b) Grounding circuits, other than by means of the structure of the vessel on which the tool is being used, shall be checked to ensure that the circuit between the ground and the grounded power conductor has a resistance which is low enough to permit sufficient current to flow to cause the fuse or circuit breaker to interrupt the current. (c) Handheld portable electric tools shall be equipped with switches of a type which must be manually held in the closed position. (d) Furthermore, worn or frayed cables shall not be used.
  • 29 CFR 1915.132(e) – This section applies to ship repairing only, and the employer must notify the officer in charge of the vessel before using electric power tools operated with the vessel’s current.
  • 29 CFR 1915.89 – This provision covers control of hazardous energy – using lockout and tags – for all machinery, general requirements, and much more. Click on the link to view all the requirements and regulations.

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Additional Resources

Electrical Safety Foundation International | ESFI – The ESFI is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting electrical safety in the workplace and home through education, awareness, and advocacy. Follow the link to their ‘Boating and Marina Safety’ page, which includes resources and safety tips on what to do and what not to do. Additionally, the site includes reference guides and safety tips for bystanders, boat owners, boat operators, etc.

Shipboard Electrical Hazards | OSHA – Follow the link to learn more information about electrical shocks and hazards. The website also includes OSHA standards and procedures that must be followed to protect employees from electrical hazards.


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Electrical Accident Attorney Serving the Pacific Northwest

If you’re a seaman who was injured in a shipboard electrical accident that happened because of the unseaworthiness of a vessel or its crew, you may be able to seek compensation under maritime law. Consulting with an experienced maritime attorney can help you determine which maritime laws (e.g., Jones Act, maintenance and cure, etc.) you can file a claim to seek compensation for the damages you sustained. Those victimized by other’s lack of care have the right to seek compensation for their damages and hold the liable party accountable.

The attorneys at Anderson Carey Williams & Neidzwski, PLLC represent seafaring clients in a wide range of personal injury claims and wrongful death cases governed by maritime and admiralty law. If you have sustained injuries because of the negligence of the vessel owner or the carelessness of a crewmember from an electrical shock or a shipboard electrical accident, you have a right to pursue compensation for the damages you incurred. If you lost a loved one while they were in service of a vessel at sea because of an electrical shock accident or another maritime accident contact Anderson Carey Williams & Neidzwski, PLLC, our attorneys are here for seafarers and their families.

Our offices are located in Seattle and Bellingham, WA, Portland, OR, and San Francisco and Los Angeles, CA. Call us at 1 (800) 262-8529 to schedule a free initial consultation or fill out a case review form at the bottom of the page.


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This article was last updated on Tuesday, July 28, 2020.

  • The Maritime Law Association of The United States
    The Maritime Law Association of the United States (MLA) was founded in 1899. Its formation was prompted by the organization, some three years earlier, of the International Maritime Committee.
  • Washington State Bar Association
    The Washington State Bar Association operates under the delegated authority of the Washington Supreme Court to license the state's nearly 40,000 lawyers and other legal professionals.
  • Oregon State Bar
    The Oregon State Bar is a government agency in the U.S. state of Oregon. Founded in 1890 as the private Oregon Bar Association, it became a public entity in 1935 that regulates the legal profession.
  • Alaska Bar Association
    The Alaska Bar Association is a mandatory bar association responsible to the Alaska Supreme Court for the admission and discipline process of attorneys for the State of Alaska.