Exposure to Lead when Working on a Ship

For years, lead has been known as a harmful environmental pollutant and health risk. There are many serious side effects of lead exposure, which is why the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)called lead the “number one environmental threat to the health of children in the United States.” However, lead is also dangerous for adults. Most adults who are exposed to lead are in occupations where they are near lead. Within the maritime industry many workers are exposed to toxic levels of lead.

According to a recent study of occupational exposures to lead in shipfitters cutting and riveting lead-painted iron plates aboard an iron-hulled sailing vessel, many of the samples taken were above the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)’s standard. Even more frightening was the fact that researchers found that workers who wore respirators had the same level of lead exposure as workers who wore no protective gear.

Lead can be found in the air, drinking water, food, soil and dust. One of the main sources of lead today is old lead-based paint. When lead-based paint is improperly removed by dry scraping, sanding or burning, it can cause harmful exposure. Older vessels that have lead-based paint can result in high concentrations of airborne lead particles. Workers may inhale lead dust and can increase the probability of lead ingestion if they eat, drink or smoke near contaminated areas.

Harmful Health Affects of Lead Exposure

Lead can affect all systems within the body, but symptoms do not surface until the level of lead in the body is very high. High levels of exposure can cause convulsions, coma and even death. Lead has also been known to cause:

  • Poor muscle coordination
  • Nerve damage
  • Irreversible brain damage
  • Renal disease
  • Cardiovascular effects
  • Reproductive toxicity
  • Increased blood pressure

The earlier lead exposure is detected, the better the chances of avoiding permanent damage. Treatment of lead exposure usually includes medication that will remove the lead from the body. Unfortunately, not all of the damage caused by lead exposure can be reversed.

Who is liable for lead exposure?

Workers on ships, barges, rigs, tugs and other vessels are protected under the Jones Act. If the employer, vessel owner or other responsible party was aware of the lead exposure and did not take steps to rectify the situation or protect the crew, then they can be held liable. The Jones Act provides legal protection for seamen and can result in compensation for the injured worker.

The Willis Law Firm is experienced in representing Jones Act cases. If you have been exposed to lead when working on a vessel and have serious health problems as a result, contact our law firm immediately.