The maritime industry is home to many pieces of unique, unusual, and sometimes dangerous equipment and workstations. One such example is the spud barge.
In this article, by experienced Long Beach maritime lawyer Charles D. Naylor, we will take a closer look at what a spud barge is and how it is used in offshore and maritime workplaces. We’ll then examine some of the possible health and safety risks associated with working on one. Finally, we’ll share the best course of action to take if you are injured at your place of employment while on a barge.
Let’s get started right away.
Spud barge defined?
A spud barge – sometimes called a jack-up barge – is a specialized type of barge commonly used for marine construction operations. The barge is moored by steel shafts or through-deck piling, which are essentially pipes driven right into the soil or sand at the bottom of the water to provide stability. These are often referred to as ‘spuds,’ giving this barge its distinct name.
The large, flat, level deck offers a stable ‘ground’ on the water’s surface from which construction operations can be performed. While a flat surface isn’t a necessity for all offshore construction work, if there is heavy equipment involved, stability is an absolute must.
Spud barges also provide ample room for storing construction equipment such as digging machines and cranes during downtime.
Available in a whole range of sizes and weights, spud barges can be positioned anywhere offshore, including in the ocean and along the coastline, or further inland on a river or lake. And, while some companies own their own spud barges, many choose to rent or hire these flat-decked boats.
What are they used for?
As we mentioned above, the key benefit of using a spud barge is its stable, flat surface. Accordingly, these barges are typically used as work platforms for a whole host of construction and mining operations, such as canal expansion and maintenance, oil rig work, and more.
Here are just some of the services spud barges are used for in the maritime and offshore industries:
- Offshore demolition projects
- Crane work
- Pipeline construction, installation, and repair
- Driving pilings
- Marine recovery operations
- Heavy equipment and machinery transportation
Before they are moored, spud barges are an incredibly efficient transportation vessel when pulled by a tugboat. Incredibly, they can carry more than 60 times as many materials and equipment as a truck and 15 times as much as a rail car.
What are the safety precautions associated with spud barges?
As with all heavy-duty equipment and offshore worksites, there are a number of critical health and safety precautions that must be followed when working onboard a spud barge.
According to the Spud Barge Safety Fact Sheet, employers and employees should take the following precautions into consideration:
- Before a barge is moved from its current position, each spud must be raised to ensure the pinhole is positioned above the rest area of the securing pin. Workers must pin each spud in this raised position.
- Remember that the licensed master of the towing vessel is responsible for making sure the barge under his or her control is safe and ready to move. This means checking that all spud securing pins are securely in place before the tow begins.
- Know the emergency protocol. In the case of a power failure, imminent collision, or another emergency, the spuds may need to be lowered to stop the barge. The towing supervisor must direct all barge workers on when and how to lower the spuds.
- Before mooring and lowering the spuds, check that all securing pins are removed completely, and all employees are clear of the immediate area. Taking these precautions can minimize the risk of employees being struck by falling pins. Remember, these pins can measure up to 4-feet long and weight up to 85 pounds.
- If you operate a spud barge, developing standard operating procedures is essential. Both initial and periodic training of employees is critical to ensuring safety onboard. This training must include how to properly use securing pins to hold spuds in place both when moored and during transportation.
Common injuries sustained
Spuds on the barges can weigh up to five tons and heavy-duty securing pins are used to keep them in position. However, if spuds are not properly secured, employees can sustain serious, life-changing, and even life-threatening injuries. What’s more, due to the nature of construction or oil rigging worksites, machinery and debris can be additional hazards to workers.
Here are five of the most common injuries sustained on these types of barges.
1. Back trauma
Back injuries are common in many workplaces, and spud barges are no exception. Back trauma can occur from sudden impacts or as a result of repeated exertion from lifting the 85-pound steel security pins over a number of years. Back trauma can be either short- or long-term, with long-term conditions making everyday tasks, including working, difficult or impossible to complete.
2. Struck-by accidents
Spud barges hold heavy machinery and construction equipment and employees can be struck by materials hanging from cranes. Some workers may even be knocked by a spud as it’s lowered or raised. However, the majority of struck-by accidents occur when a worker loses their footing, falls from a height, or is tossed overboard.
3. Slips and falls
Tripping and slipping hazards are everywhere on spud barges, including debris and building materials. Other threats include wet and slippery decks, stairs, and ladders. Slips and falls may take place on the deck itself or result in an employee falling overboard.
4. Crushing and amputation injuries
As they attempt to remove a spud pin, crew members may have their fingers or hands caught. If a cable breaks or drops suddenly, limbs and extremities may be crushed. Severe injuries may require an amputation.
Unfortunately, many fatal accidents have taken place onboard spud barges. These occur as a result of drownings, explosions, and failure to properly secure spuds during transportation. If a loved one died onboard a spud barge, you may be entitled to benefits.
Case study: the Athena 106
To illustrate the dangers associated with working on a spud barge, let’s take a quick look at the story of the Athena 106.
In October 2006, towing vessel Miss Megan was pushing two barges toward a pile-driving destination in the West Cote Blanche Bay oil field, just off the coast of Louisiana. While being transported, one of the barges – the Athena 106 – suddenly dropped one of its spuds. The spud shot down through the water, hitting and rupturing a high-pressure natural gas pipeline.
The gas ignited, and an incredible fireball engulfed both barges and the towing vessel. The explosion resulted in the death of the master of the towing vessel and four barge employees.
An investigation into the horrific accident found that on a day-to-day basis, the spud winch operator did not use securing pins to back up the winch foot brakes. If the pins were used, the accident could have been prevented.
Were you injured while working on one?
As a maritime worker, you have specialized rights and benefits under the Jones Act and other maritime laws. These outline how much compensation you and your family are entitled to for lost wages, medical bills, living expenses, and other costs.
Unfortunately, the majority of injuries sustained aboard one occur as a result of employer negligence or lack of safety concern, poor equipment maintenance, or out-of-date training of the ship crew. Owners of spud barges have a legal responsibility to keep their workers safe. This includes providing a seaworthy vessel with maintained and properly function equipment. Safe working conditions are your right – even when operating offshore. That means anticipating foreseeable hazards and taking all necessary precautions to minimize risk.
According to U.S. Coast Guard statistics, between 1999 and 2008, 120 maritime workers died in barge and towing accidents, with many more injured. In the two-year period between 2006 and 2008, there were almost 200 incidents onboard barges that resulted in medium to severe injuries to the crew.
So, if you or a loved one have been injured while working on a spud barge, you are not alone. It’s now time to secure the compensation you deserve and are entitled to.
What to do after an accident
We have already established that spud barges can be dangerous. The presence of heavy equipment, cranes, and other machinery poses serious risks to the workers on board. Slips and falls, falling objects, and other accidents offshore can be truly devastating. That’s why it is essential to work with a lawyer you trust to help you navigate the potentially complex aftermath.
First and foremost, recognize that, as a maritime worker, you may be entitled to collect full payment and compensation for medical costs endured due to a work-related injury. You should also look into wage replacement benefits if you are currently unable to work.
Depending on the nature of the accident, you may be able to claim additional benefits. For example, if you were injured as a result of unseaworthy conditions onboard the spud barge, you may wish to file a lawsuit against the person or company that owns the barge.
What’s more, you may also wish to file a suit against a third party if their workplace negligence resulted in your injury. The third party might be the contractor of the project or even the manufacturer of faulty equipment.
Because there are so many variables at play, it’s vital to carefully examine the cause of your injury, as well as the outcome of your injury. Consider who or what was a fault. Ask yourself whether or not you will be able to return to work in the next three months, six months, or ever. Could the accident have been prevented by proper safety precautions? Was the crew or supervisor acting inappropriately or disregarding their responsibilities?
These are important factors to consider. Your lawyer can assist you through the claim process and will let you know which benefits you are entitled to.
Work with The Law Offices of Charles D. Naylor
Situated in San Pedro, California in the center of the Port of Los Angeles and Port of Long Beach, The Law Offices of Charles D. Naylor are home to an expert team of maritime law specialists in California.
Offering unparalleled legal representation for maritime workers – including those on spud barges – as well as other offshore clients (oil workers, cruise ship passengers, etc.), our team knows this specialized area of law inside and out. We can help you navigate the often stressful, complex process of claiming maritime personal injury and Jones Act related benefits following an incident resulting in injury or death onboard a barge.
Combined, our team of experienced and qualified attorneys boasts more than a century of experience. Since 1974, we have maintained strong community ties. Today, we are ready and willing to go above and beyond to make your post-accident life as easy and comfortable as possible.
Customer satisfaction is our number one concern. We can represent you in a variety of maritime personal injury cases, whether you slipped and fell, suffered an amputation, or if a loved one was in a fatal accident at sea. Whatever you need, our attorneys possess the academic expertise and on-the-job experience needed to secure you the optimal outcome.
Following your spud barge accident, get in touch with our team as soon as possible. We’d be more than happy to help – so please don’t hesitate to give us a call.
Get in touch with the team at The Law Offices of Charles D. Naylor
Get access to the best maritime attorneys by contacting the friendly team at The Law Offices of Charles D. Naylor. Visit our contact page or give us a call at 310-514-1200 to start discussing your needs.
We understand that every case is different, and we are ready to help you secure the benefits you are entitled to collect.