Commercial fishing is a dangerous occupation, and one of the biggest threats to safety on these vessels is confined spaces. When these confined locations are not properly identified tested, and ventilated, workers can be injured or even killed. OSHA and the U.S. Coast Guard both have regulations in place which apply to different activities in the fishing industry in order to keep employees safe. Among the many regulations issued by these two organizations are rules regarding cleaning, repairs, overhaul and alteration of vessels at sea, and repairs made dockside or in a shipyard. All of these jobs may involve sending workers into confined spaces.
While the U.S. Coast Guard typically regulates the commercial fishing industry, OSHA regulates activities that have to do with general industry and shipyard employment. OSHA has the right to enforce their standards within three miles of the coast line except for in the Gulf coast of Florida, Texas, and Puerto Rico. In those territories, the OSHA is able to enforce their rules for nine nautical miles. In order to keep workers safe on these commercial fishing vessels, OSHA has identified three main atmospheric hazards that can harm workers.
Oxygen Levels: In enclosed spaces, oxygen levels can drop quickly and significantly. Any oxygen levels that are too low or too high can result in serious dangers. According to OSHA, low oxygen is normally measured as 19.5 percent or less. This can lead to a loss of awareness, unconsciousness, and eventual death by suffocation. When oxygen greater than 22%, this is considered too high can comes with an added risk for a fire. High oxygen can cause fire to burn at a faster than normal rate and may even create an explosion.
Toxic Chemicals: Another danger in enclosed spaces is the presence of toxic chemicals. On fishing vessels, it isn't rare for dangerously high levels of hydrogen sulfide and ammonia to accumulate in poorly ventilated areas. This can affect workers skin, eyes, and respiratory system. It may result in almost immediate death.
Flammable Atmospheres: Small, poorly ventilated spaces can often facilitate the danger of a fire or an explosion. As mentioned before, a dangerously high oxygen level poses a fire risk. Flammable or combustible gases or liquids can result in an explosion, especially when an ignition source is introduced.
Refrigeration Spaces: Commercial fishing vessels often have large refrigeration rooms and spaces where the fish are stored. Freon can displace oxygen in these refrigerators, causing the oxygen level to drop dangerously low. Also, ammonia can become flammable in these spaces. Foam insulation in the fridge may catch fire in the case of a combustible reaction, causing severe injury or death.
Sewage Tanks: In sewage tanks there are toxic hydrogen sulfide levels and flammable gases. There are also low oxygen levels in these tanks. Workers should avoid entering them when possible.
Ballast Tanks, Lazarette and Chain Lockers: Small, confined spaces on fishing vessels can all present the hazard of low oxygen levels. Saltwater can cause metals to rust. Because these containers are normally made of metal, the rust may be present in these locations, and the rust will naturally diffuse oxygen. Eventually, this will result in a low oxygen level displaced by gases and pain vapors. This can be toxic for workers.
Slop Tanks, Holds or Voids: Most commercial fishing vessels have some sort of container where organic matter can collect and decompose. These tanks have low oxygen levels and there is normally a significant level of hydrogen sulfide in these locations because of the decomposition of the organic matter.
Fuel, Lube or Hydraulic Oil Tanks: These locations can create low oxygen levels and oftentimes the atmospheres are flammable or toxic. Workers would do best to stay away from these enclosed spaces when possible so that they are not injured or do not suffocate from the lack of oxygen inside.
If you have been injured because of the low oxygen levels, flammable materials, or toxic chemicals in enclosed spaces on a commercial fishing vessel, then you need to hire an offshore injury attorney to help you. At Arnold & Itkin, we've won billions of dollars. Our attorneys can help you to seek compensation if your employer or supervisor failed to follow OSHA and U.S. Coast Guard regulations regarding enclosed spaces and put you in danger!
Arnold & Itkin represented nearly a third of the crewmembers injured in the Deepwater Horizon explosion.
Because maritime law is so complex and so complicated, it is crucial that you work with an attorney who has an in-depth understanding of how it works and who has proven themselves in similar cases before.