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Crane collapses and federal law protects injured workers

On Behalf of | Aug 6, 2019 | Jones Act, Maritime Law |

A federal report on a crane collapse injuring three workers in Brownsville, has been released after a year of investigation.

The accident appears to be a good example of the kind of incident for which the Jones Act and perhaps the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA) were created.

These federal laws should assure workers like those hurt in Brownsville are covered by insurance somewhat comparable o workers’ compensation covering most land-locked workers.

A load too heavy for its crane

According to the new report from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the accident happened in August 2018 in the Brownsville Ship Channel.

Crews were using a crane barge to try to move part of a vessel being dismantled. The maximum safe weight for the crane that day was 700 tons.

First, the crane was ordered to apply 350 tons of tension to the load, and then to increase the tension to 400 tons. When the load didn’t budge, orders were issued to take it up to 500 and then to 550 tons. The load didn’t move.

Management higher-ups were summoned, the barge was repositioned, and the ordered was issued to take the tension to just under its maximum capacity. The crane and its load collapsed to the bottom of the channel.

Injuries on the barge and on a tugboat

The NTSB report is something of an overview of the incident, so it leaves quite a few questions unaddressed.

Most importantly, it’s unclear exactly how serious the injuries to crewmembers were. Two crewmembers aboard the barge were injured, a mechanic with a fractured ankle and the crane operator with back and shoulder injuries. A deckhand on a tugboat that had been assisting suffered a leg injury.

The Jones Act or the LHWCA?

The report also provides too little information to be certain whether the injured workers would be covered under the Jones Act or the LHWCA.

Medical bills, lost wages and benefits were probably paid for the tugboat crewmember under the Jones Act. Workers covered by the Jones Act must be seamen, defined as someone spending at least 30% of their work hours on a “vessel in navigation.” If this worker was mainly a tugboat crewmember, their injury would be covered by the Jones Act.

The barge workers may also be covered under the same act or under the LHWCA. Specific information would be needed about the crane barge’s match to the definition of a “vessel in navigation,” and about the usual duties of the barge workers.

Workers eligible for the LHWCA include longshore workers who build or repair or break ships, work in harbor construction and the like.