Expansion among businesses along the Houston Ship Channel is expected to balloon over the next three years, with companies reporting an estimated $35 million in investments for both maintenance and new capital.
In part, that's going to mean an estimated 112,000 new shipyard construction jobs in the area, according to a Port Authority marketing consultant. This is major news, as there hasn't been a significant industry expansion push at Ship Channel since the 1990s.
Our Houston construction accident attorneys realize this will inevitably translate into an uptick of construction-related injuries. We are hopeful that the companies pledging growth will do so responsibly, without attempting to cut corners by skimping on worker safety standards. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration recently produced a compilation called Safety and Health Injury Prevention Sheets (or SHIPS), which details worker safety guidelines for the shipyard construction industry.
Like almost every other construction site, falls are the No.1 concern for shipyard construction workers. Shipfitters have the potential to encounter numerous fall hazards on an everyday basis.
Just as an example, access cuts in the deckplates used to remove or install ship components have the potential to create a fall hazard for anybody who passes through the area, particularly if there is no proper guarding in place.
The same kind of risks are present when gratings or staging boards are moved for repair. It's imperative that temporary coverings be installed at these locations - every time, without exception. Same with leads, hoses and lines that are left along walk areas. Neatly arranging them and then using ramps to serve as crossovers can prevent trips.
Site supervisors have a duty to ensure that not only are the proper protocols in place, but that employees are strictly following them.
Another major risk: burns and shocks. Many workers are not only in close proximity to open flames and heated steel surfaces, they are often working with electrical welding equipment on surfaces that are conductive - and sometimes wet. This presents a huge risk of electrocution.
Everyone who is assisting or working directly with hot work should wear gloves and any other appropriate equipment, such as fire retardant leather sleeves and non-flammable clothing materials.
Additionally, welding cables should always be completely insulated, and supervisors should ensure that those cables are able to handle the maximum current requirements. Workers should also do a quick visual check of the entire cable line before starting, in order to identify any potential shock risks.
Another big concern is overexposure to airborne toxins. For years, asbestos was a common material used in shipbuilding. Exposure has been linked to a fatal form of lung cancer known as mesothelioma. Although asbestos is not as widely in use today, it is still present in a lot of older ships, and there are other potential airborne toxins in the shipfitting field that require the use of respirators.
These protective breathing apparatuses should not be left exposed in the workplace when they aren't being used, as this may diminish their effectiveness.
Supervisors need to ensure that workers are not only provided with the proper equipment, but that there is adequate ventilation in confined work areas.
Finally, there is the risk of acute, traumatic injuries caused by a variety of tools and equipment. Potential risks include lacerations, amputations and other severe injuries. It is critical that supervisors establish and enforce strict safety policies intended to minimize the risk of such incidents.
If you have been injured in a Houston construction accident, contact Hagood & Neumann at (800) 632-9404. Offices in Houston and Galveston.