Gennusa & Piacun

Admiralty / Maritime Law

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Workers on the ocean may get exposed to non-ionizing radiation

When people discuss or explore the various risks associated with maritime careers, the focus is usually on the risks posed by the ocean, storms at sea or similar environmental risks. However, the ocean itself is only one of many unique risks that maritime workers need to remain aware of and vigilant about.

Those working on maritime vessels can also wind up exposed to dangerous environmental factors that aren't as common for workers back on shore. Vibrations from tools and the motion of the boat can cause muscular and nerve symptoms, while the close quarters of maritime living situations can lead to increased risk of infectious disease and interpersonal conflicts.

One unique risk of those working at sea is the potential for exposure to high levels of non-ionizing radiation, which may lead to increased risk for workplace illnesses and injuries. The better you understand this common form of radiation, the better prepared you'll be to deal with it in the workplace.

What constitutes non-ionizing radiation?

Radiation refers to energy produced by a substance that is typically invisible to the human eye and can travel at the speed of light. Non-ionizing radiation comes in many different forms, including low-frequency radiation from power lines and wiring, microwave radiation, radiofrequency radiation, infrared radiation, ultraviolet radiation and even some kinds of lasers.

What are the consequences of non-ionizing radiation exposure?

When people think of radiation sickness, they usually think of ionizing radiation such as X-rays or gamma rays, which are dangerous because they can ionize atoms inside living cells. Exposure to ionizing radiation can either cause cell death or rapid cellular mutation that can lead to cancer. Non-ionizing radiation is different because it does not lead to deep tissue damage the way that ionizing radiation does. Still, it can cause damage to the body, particularly to the skin and the eyes.

Prolonged and intense levels of non-ionizing radiation can cause injuries to the eyes or burns on the skin, which could eventually result in cancer. Non-ionizing radiation can also cause an increase in temperature, which can cause direct injury to the body or indirect harm through thermal transfer and burns caused by heated items.

How your employer can keep you safer

Properly educating staff members about the risks of non-ionizing radiation and its sources in your maritime workplace is one of the best things your employer can do to help keep you safe. If you know a particular device or activity puts you at increased risk, you can take steps to reduce that risk.

Your employer should also provide you with eye and face protection to reduce the amount of radiation that affects your facial skin and your eyes. Additionally, there are ways for an employer to reduce or contain the amount of non-ionizing radiation released by devices commonly used on boats.

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