By VANESSA HO
Two longtime ferry workers have sued the state, alleging they were exposed to unsafe noise levels that led to hearing loss while working in the engine rooms of different vessels.
George Greenwood, a chief engineer currently assigned to the Hyak, and Christopher Johnson, a relief chief engineer assigned to different ferries, have measurable hearing damage after working for Washington State Ferries for more than a decade, said their attorney, Rob Williamson.
Williamson said the lawsuits, filed last month in King County Superior Court, are part of a larger pattern of complaints alleging work-related hearing damage among ferry workers. He said he has filed 180 such lawsuits since 1998 against the state Department of Transportation, which runs the ferries.
While the state has improved its protection of workers’ hearing, it hasn’t been enough to protect everyone, Williamson said.
“Even when you do all that you can, this is such a noisy environment that people can get hurt,” he said.
The workers most at risk are the engineers and oilers who work in the control and engine rooms. Williamson said the state begin mandating hearing exams for the workers several years ago, as a way to track hearing damage.
He said officials have improved the type of protection for workers – ear plugs and muffs – and now require them to wear the protection in certain places. He also said the agency has installed quieter engines on newer vessels and retrofitted older ones with sound-proofing insulation, engine shields and vestibules.
The agency’s policy also requires it to regularly monitor noise levels for safety.
Despite those improvements, Williamson said it’s “inevitable” that some people will suffer hearing loss. He also said workers say some boats are louder than others, including the Hyak, a mid-sized ferry that is using ship engines from the Spokane, a jumbo ferry.
“They were screaming loud,” he said.
Marta Coursey, a spokeswoman for the ferry system, said the agency has a comprehensive hearing-conservation program that employees are required to follow.
“Employees have a clear role in observing safety rules and regulations in order to maintain their health and hearing,” Coursey said in an e-mail.
"(Washington State Ferries) upholds the highest standards of safety for our employees as well as our customers, and we have a longstanding history of ensuring that our engine room employees safeguard their health including their hearing," she wrote.
Williamson said studies that look at noise levels and worker safety usually study thresholds for an eight-hour period. He said those studies shouldn’t be applied to ferry workers, because they work 12-hour shifts.
He also said lab settings differ from real work environments, because they don’t account for individual use, such as someone wearing glasses, or getting jostled on a boat.
“I’m personally not satisfied that we scientifically really know what’s safe,” he said.
He said most of his 180 complaints against the state were filed in the late 1990s or early 2000s, which he said is a sign that conditions have improved in recent years. He said the state mostly settled those cases, paying a total of $3 to $4 million to injured workers.
By VANESSA HO
“alleging they were exposed to unsafe noise levels that led to hearing loss while working in the engine rooms of different vessels”
You mean it gets LOUD working in an enclosed area next to giant engines???:eek:
I’ve been lied to!
Sounds like there may soon be two new Engine Room openings on the job leads thread… start applying…
Wait you mean those little foam things by the engine room door are supposed to go in our ears and aren’t supposed to be chewed? :eek:
If those guys think ferry’s are bad, they need to walk into the larger crewboat’s engine room. Four to Six engines in a smaller space, don’t even bother yelling at somebody when hooked up.
AH…the Washington State Ferry System…a testiment to increadible inefficiency, insular ineptitude and insipid incompetence…
How many hundreds of millions of dollars have gone to pay frivolous claims for injuries by ferry workers? Every imaginable loonie claim in the book like the Ferry System make me smaller and reduced my manhood by cleaning toilets! (well not really, but close). Now engineers losing hearing! Impossible I say! The loudest thing those guys hear in their soundproofed controlrooms is the coffeemaker beeping when it’s finished brewing.
A lazy, shiftless bunch of stooges laying in their union featherbeds while on watch. They have not a clue what being a real working mariner is! Take them off of their little microcosm Ferrytale world and drop them onto a real working vessel on Fourchon and they’d roll up onto a little fetal position ball and wimper mama!
Come on all you Ferry System louts, you know who you are…give it to me back. I DARZE YA!
Ah yes, good ol’ WSF.
I left a Master’s job back in '99 to sail AB with them so I could stay close to home while the kids grew up. I lasted five years. Don’t miss 'em a bit. On one of my first night watches, sailing as OS, I was sent to the pilothouse to stand lookout. As we were crossing the TSS eastbound out of Kingston, I noticed a northbound target crossing from our starboard bow. I said to the mate on watch “Hey mate, there’s a tug and barge two points on the starboard bow, crossing, about two miles out”. He looked up from doing his crossword puzzle, stared at me for a moment and then snapped “I’ll decide what kind of vessel it is, sailor!”.
One of my least favorite days was watching a Captain use Course Up Radar in the fog, thinking it was set to North Up, and make a series of turn without resetting the radar. She got so out of whack she just about put that boat on the beach. I tried to say something but, hey I was just a lowly AB and what did I know. We were in so close there was a beachfront homeowner’s mooring ball on our beam once we finally got the boat stopped. She and I had an interesting conversation about that when she came in to PMI to renew her radar and I was her instructor.:eek: