Commercial fishing is one of the most dangerous jobs for many reasons, including working with hazardous equipment like plate freezers. If you work with the freezer on a shipping vessel, you could get hurt in an accident. Seeking compensation is your right if you are injured while doing your job.
Freezer Trawlers and Vessels
Freezer trawlers or freezer vessels are commercial fishing boats with plate freezers to freeze and preserve the catch while still out at sea.
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Commercial fishermen need to be able to preserve the catch right away to prevent it from going rancid. Spoiled fish can’t be sold, and because these vessels often stay out to sea for weeks or months, having freezers for keeping the fish on board, the ship is essential.
Without these large and efficient freezers, fishing vessels risk losing an entire catch to spoiling before entering the harbor.
Most boats use plate freezers to get fish frozen and stored quickly. This equipment comprises several plates stacked either vertically or horizontally. The plates have channels running through them, and these carry refrigerant through the plates to keep them at a very low temperature.
Fish are placed between the plates, and the plates are pressed together. The temperature of the plates is as low as 30 or 40 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. The fish pressed between the plates freeze very quickly and can therefore be processed promptly. They are also pressed into blocks of fish that are easy to store.
Accidents with Plate Freezers
All jobs in commercial fishing are dangerous. If you work on a fishing vessel, you face rough waters, hazardous weather, complicated equipment, and risks of falling overboard, developing hypothermia, and accidents from being tired or untrained in using the fishing equipment.
If you work with the plate freezers, you face additional hazards on the job. The vast majority of accidents that cause injuries on fishing vessels occur during the processing and handling of frozen fish.
The freezers themselves, and related equipment and job duties, can lead to several accidents and injuries:
- The plates are extremely cold, and any contact with bare skin can cause serious damage. Being careless around the plates or not having access to appropriate safety gear, like heavy-duty gloves, can easily lead to frostbite, torn skin, and other damage from the cold plates.
- Shifting in the ship through rough waters and weather can also cause a problem. The blocks of frozen fish created by the plate freezers are large and heavy. If the ship dips or tilts suddenly, one of these blocks can be dislodged and ejected from the freezer and may hit a worker.
- In addition to the freezers, processing fish aboard a boat involves working with and around conveyor belts, chutes, and other working parts. Getting clothing caught in a conveyor belt can have severe consequences and may result from a lack of safety guards, inappropriate attire, or inadequate equipment training.
- While storing boxes of frozen blocks of fish, shifting on the boat can cause these boxes to move, fall, or drop onto workers causing injuries.
Another type of accident that may occur in working with the frozen catch is less obvious and less immediate. These workers have to lift many heavy objects and move in repetitive ways for hours on end.
This can lead to repetitive motion injuries that develop over time, including back and neck injuries and pain, swollen, painful joints, and repetitive stress injuries.
Common Freezer Plate Injuries
You may be injured while working in the freezer area of a fishing boat in many ways. On freezer trawlers and similar ships, most injuries are caused while working with frozen fish.
The heavy blocks of frozen fish and boxes of frozen fish as well as the freezer itself, can easily cause accidents that lead to some of the more common injuries:
- Punctures, cuts, and lacerations
- Contusions or deep bruising
- Head injuries
- Sprains, strains, and torn ligaments
- Fractured bones
- Swollen joints
- Repetitive stress injuries
Fatalities are also possible for workers in the freezer area of a shipping vessel. Being struck by a large box of frozen fish or a block of frozen catch can cause death, especially if the worker is struck on the head.
Although not common, workers have also died from being asphyxiated by the refrigerant used in the freezer while working in a confined space with inadequate ventilation.
Workers’ Rights After Maritime Injuries
If you work in this industry and are responsible for using the plate freezers and processing the catch aboard your fishing vessel, you have rights. Workers have a right to a reasonably safe work environment.
In the event of accidents that cause injuries, workers also have a right to seek compensation. Maritime law guarantees you the right to compensation for your living and medical expenses while you can’t work, regardless of any negligence that may have contributed to the accident. This is your right according to the law of maintenance and cure.
Although the work is inherently risky, many accidents aboard fishing trawlers could have been prevented.
Negligence is often involved in maritime and freezer plate accidents. Negligence can include improper training for workers, inadequate safety gear, long hours with too few breaks and resulting fatigue, improperly maintained or repaired equipment, and assigning workers to tasks they cannot do.
Any one of these things, even if seemingly insignificant, can lead to accidents, injuries, and even fatalities in the worst situations.
If you can show that your employer’s negligence contributed to your freezer accident, the Jones Act provides compensation for your medical bills, your lost wages, and other intangibles, like pain and suffering.
It also ensures that your dependent loved ones have access to the same compensation if you die. To help you determine your rights, decide if you qualify for the Jones Act and if you have a case, and file a compensation claim, consult an experienced, professional maritime attorney.