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Falls in Commercial Fishing

Each year, dozens of fisherman are killed when they fall from dangerous heights on commercial fishing vessels out in the ocean. Others are severely injured. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the U.S. Coast Guard do all that they can to reduce the amount of falls in commercial fishing accidents, but they aren't always successful at protecting workers from harm. Employers and supervisors on commercial fishing vessels have the responsibility to prevent falls using whatever means necessary.

Fall Hazards on Commercial Fishing Vessels

Workers are most likely to suffer a fall on a commercial fishing vessel when they are:

  • Painting the outside vessel rails
  • Working on fishing gear
  • Welding the outside of a vessel's hull
  • Working on masts or gantries

In addition to these dangerous jobs, workers are at risk to falls when they are near open hatches. Most fishing vessels have these hatches that can have deep drops into the belly of a ship. All hatches should be protected by coamings or guarded by rails. The OSHA commands that all coamings must be a minimum of 24 inches tall.

Another fall danger is when fishermen board or exit a vessel from the dock. All gangways should be very solid and have guardrails to prevent the possibility of a fall. Individuals who tumble off of the gangway could end up trapped between the dock and the ship, or may collide with one of these hazards in their descent. Gangways should have at least 20 inches of walking surface and be built to carry the anticipated load. When a gangway is not available, fisherman can boar ships using a straight ladder that extends 36 inches above the upper landing and is secured.

Edges of the decks, platforms, scaffolding, runways, staging, or other flat surfaces are other dangers on fishing boats. Because of the rocking motion of the boat and the unpredictability of the oceans, workers may be tossed back and forth on upper platforms and there is a risk that they could come crashing down. This is why all platforms 5 feet above the lower deck must be guarded with guardrails unless something prevents it.

Fall Prevention Methods

Because of the instability on a boat, falls are often a threat. The rocking waves can send a boat back and forth, pitching workers on higher levels down to the decks below. Also, poor lighting and slick, wet surfaces promote the possibility of a fall. This is why OSHA suggests that all supervisors on these vessels provide fall protection when a worker is more than five feet above a solid surface. Supervisors are also required to use fall prevention tactics whenever a worker is suspended over the water.

When a worker is on the ship on a surface that is five feet from the deck or level below, then the ship should have a guard rail, chain, or rope to serve as a handrail. When there is a hole or another dangerous trip hazard supervisors should cover the area with a toe board. When a person is suspended over the water or if a handrail is not available, then workers are supposed to make use of a fall restraint system.

This is a system that involves a harness and a lifeline and will keep a person from falling off the edge of a surface. When fall restraint systems are not available, fall arrest systems can be used. These are also harness systems that won't prevent a fall but will allow a worker to be caught with minimal injury.

Workers can also reduce the risk of a fall by:

  • Using proper equipment
  • Establishing a proper gangway to board exit vessels
  • Practicing ladder safety
  • Only using cranes to lift personnel when they are approved for this use
  • Keeping equipment out of pathways to reduce trip hazards
  • Using handrails to maintain balance when necessary

If you are injured in a fall accident on a commercial fishing vessel, you may be able to seek worker's compensation or a personal injury settlement. You will want an offshore injury attorney from Arnold & Itkin LLP to help you with your lawsuit. The lawyers at our law firm have recovered billions of dollars for clients all throughout America and want to help you to get a just settlement for your injuries. Don't hesitate to contact the firm today to get started on your lawsuit and enforce your rights as an offshore worker and commercial fisherman!

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