The Dangers of Hypothermia as a Maritime Worker

icebreaker ship cutting path through ice in the Arctic


Whether your vessel travels through the United States, or out to international waters, the winter can be a dangerous time for sailors.

In addition to the usual dangers faced on boats – unseaworthy vessels, maritime negligence, and more – the weather itself can pose a hazard to any sailor traveling through most parts of the world. The cold temperatures and frigid conditions can create dangerous conditions for anyone aboard a seafaring vessel. Hypothermia, perhaps, is the most dangerous and life-threatening of these risks.

What Is Hypothermia?

Hypothermia is a condition caused by prolonged exposure to the elements that results in the dropping of your body temperature. As your body is losing heat faster than it can produce heat, often through exposure to dangerously low temperatures or frigid water, your core temperature begins to drop. The normal human body is 98.6° Fahrenheit; anything below that is considered a sign of hypothermia and can prove dangerous if left untreated.

Common symptoms of hypothermia included impaired decision making, slurred speech, and difficulty breathing. These symptoms could lead to memory loss, lung damage, loss of limbs, or even death in many cases.

Hypothermia Risks for Maritime Workers?

Maritime workers are at greater risk for hypothermia than workers in many other industries due to the conditions they face. Anytone who has worked on or near the water during winter months, or in naturally colder parts of the world, knows what a difference in temperature you face when on the water. Biting winds from off the lake or ocean can reach well below 0°, and the nature of your work may place you directly in the path of these dangerous temperatures.

Anyone working aboard a large cargo freighter, for example, may be exposed to these conditions when they need to go above decks to load or unload goods. Sailors aboard fishing boats are frequently exposed to both the cold air and the risk of water splashing on decks as their vessels fight to bring the day’s catch aboard. Even dock workers are exposed to the cold air, as they frequently have to help unload cargo, inspect docked ships, or similar activities that can bring them into contact with the biting ocean air.

How to Prevent Hypothermia in Maritime Workers

What can be done to prevent hypothermia? If the duties of your maritime job require you to be exposed to the elements, your employer has a responsibility to provide all reasonable safety equipment, including heavy gloves and clothing that can stand up to the elements. Hypothermia can only be caused by prolonged exposure to the cold; exposure that can be easily prevented through protective clothing, and time alloted to get to shelter to warm up. By providing safer clothing and rotating staff so that crewmen have time to warm up before returning to the elements, the risk of hypothermia can be drastically reduced.

If you’ve suffered hypothermia due to unsafe maritime working conditions, the Jones Act attorneys of O’Bryan Law can help. Contact O’Bryan Law today – we’ll work through the details of your case and fight for you against even the biggest companies.

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