Processing fish at sea and aboard ships is a standard part of the commercial fishing industry. Any job in commercial fishing is dangerous for workers. They face long hours, fatigue, terrible weather, the possibility of falling overboard, rough seas, and big equipment that can cause serious injuries or even deaths when the malfunction. The equipment used for processing fish can also lead to serious injuries and fatalities in a number of unfortunate situations.
While all maritime jobs come with risks and dangers, those positions in commercial fishing are particularly hazardous. It is the most dangerous industry in the country and if you work on fish processing equipment, you have a physically demanding job that can lead to any number of injuries. In the worst case scenario, an accident with the equipment could cause fatalities. You have rights, though, and maritime laws are your protection.
What Fish Processors Do
Fish processing factory trawlers are ships that include processing of the catch that has been pulled from the water. There are a number of roles to play on this type of ship from deckhands and foremen to packers and cleanup crews. There are also quality controllers aboard the ship, mates, equipment operators, and freezer workers. Some people work multiple jobs on the processing ship. These people work hard, long hours and must be ready to navigate tight spaces and perform a number of tasks.
The main work of the ship is to clean and process the fish and shellfish that have been caught out at sea, typically ground fish. The job of fish processing is grueling and requires long hours, up to 16 per day so that the fish can be processed and stored on ice while still fresh. Workers produce filets, fish pieces, and fish meal for various products and use large equipment with a lot of moving parts to do it. This is a time-sensitive job that requires quick work. This means that workers are often going on little sleep and may be seriously fatigued. They also have rough waters and bad weather conditions to endure while working.
Hazards of the Job
There are many hazards associated with working on a fish processing ship. These begin with the fact that workers are often far out to sea where waters may be rough and weather cold and brutal. Conditions like these make work aboard any kind of ship dangerous. It can cause shifting cargo to hit someone, slips and falls on wet decks, hypothermia and frostbite, and falls overboard. These conditions are particularly hazardous for someone working with dangerous equipment. A slip up with heavy machinery can cause serious damage.
Even when the weather and waters aren’t rough, working with this equipment presents a number of hazards. A lack of training can lead to dangerous incidents, and not having adequate safety training or equipment can make the resulting injuries worse. Improper maintenance of the equipment is dangerous too. A broken component or a malfunction can lead to accidents and injuries. Finally, working with this equipment without proper clothing or safety guards can lead to snags and tangles in the machine.
Workers on these vessels also face the possibility of becoming ill from being around fish. The quick processing of fish and shellfish leads to an aerosol of biological particles that hangs in the air. If those fish had been infected with bacteria or fungi, inhaling the particles can cause workers to get sick. Contact with the fish may also cause allergic reactions and skin irritations for sensitive workers. Manual work with processing and cutting fish can cause abrasions, cuts, and potentially infections.
With all these potential risks of the job of fish processing, there are many injuries sustained by processing workers. Some are more common than others. Frostbite on exposed hands and fingers occur in cold working conditions. Cuts are also common among fish processors because they work with sharp equipment: knives for manual work and blades in automatic machinery. The fish itself can cause injuries too, including cuts and punctures from spines and bones.
Repetitive stress injuries are common for fish processors. These workers stand long hours and repeat the same motions over and over again. They also have to lift a lot of heavy cargo and carry processed fish into freezers, which can lead to back and joint injuries. The worst kinds of accidents with fish processing equipment happen when a worker gets caught in a machine. This can be fatal or cause lost limbs and amputations.
One such tragic incident exemplifies how easy it is to get injured doing this work and how devastating the consequences can be. A man working in the industry in 2014 died a violent death while cleaning a machine for shucking shellfish. Working the night shift, the man became tangled in the rotary engine and died on the scene. The rescue workers took an hour just to remove his remains from the machine. An investigation determined that the processing company was negligent and had not provided adequate safety precautions for workers.
Rights under Maritime Law
All workers in the maritime industry have rights when injured on the job. Whether you work in fish processing or another role on a ship, you qualify under one or more laws to get compensation if you are injured. If you happen to die on the job, your dependent loved ones also have rights. Even if negligence on the part of your employer played no role in the accident you experienced, you still are entitled to money to cover your lost income while you are healing and to cover medical expenses.
When you are injured and suffering from your maritime job and your employer is denying you the money you need to pay your bills, you can rely on a professional and experienced maritime attorney to guide you through the process of making a claim and getting the money you deserve. Maritime law can be confusing, but with the right professional on your side you can fight for what you are owed.