Commercial Fishing Accidents – Exposure to Chemical Hazards

Commercial fishermen face a number of hazards each time they board their vessel. From faulty machinery and equipment to exposure to chemical hazards, commercial fishermen place their lives and livelihoods on the line every day that they work. Exposure to chemical hazards is not just a risk assumed by seamen who work on vessels that carry hazardous chemicals as cargo. Regardless of the vessel, injuries from hazardous chemical exposure are real and potentially life-threatening.

Chemical Hazards

Commercial fishing vessels are usually stocked with diesel, gasoline, oil, and other engine and cleaning fluids that can cause serious injuries and death. These substances can include:

  • Asbestos
  • Benzene
  • Vinyl Chloride
  • Flammable Liquids
  • Toxic Metals
  • Spray Finishing Chemicals
  • Carcinogens

These substances are all regulated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). According to OSHA, these chemicals must be labeled as to what they are, what hazards they may present and how to address spills and exposure to humans.

Chemical Exposure Injuries

Even fishermen that do not regularly handle hazardous chemicals can be at risk of exposure, especially if they are aboard older vessels. For example, boats made pre-1980 may contain asbestos. Prolonged asbestos exposure can cause asbestosis and mesothelioma, potentially deadly diseases.

In addition to asbestos injuries, commercial fishermen may also be injured through inhalation or direct skin or eye contact with harmful chemicals. Occasionally, injuries occur through ingestion of harmful chemicals as well. Injuries from chemical exposure can include:

  • burns on the skin and eyes
  • mouth, throat, and digestive system burns (if the chemical is taken internally)
  • internal bleeding
  • headaches
  • nausea
  • cancer
  • immune system damage
  • brain damage

For commercial fishermen, in particular, exposure to waste water used to store fish while on board. This waste may include fish guts and blood, which can be harmful in large quantities.

Employer Responsibilities

All maritime employers must ensure that crew member exposure to hazardous chemicals is kept to a minimum and to ensure that all crew that may come into contact with hazardous chemicals are trained on their dangers, use, and exposure treatment. Maritime employers must also provide the crew with material safety sheets providing recommendations on use.

Maritime employers are also responsible for ensuring that the vessel that they are providing is in seaworthy condition. As many chemicals can build up in bilges or other areas that aren’t properly ventilated, failure to ensure proper ventilation of all vessel compartments can be grounds for determining a non-seaworthy finding.

Commercial Fisherman Protections

Commercial fishermen are protected under state and federal laws, including federal maritime laws, such as the Jones Act. Under the Jones Act, qualifying seamen can file a lawsuit directly against their maritime employer if their employer is found to be negligent in some way. Often, negligence can be found where the employer

  • failed to provide proper training in chemical exposure
  • failed to provide proper safety gear and equipment, such as exposure suits, goggles, and masks
  • failed to provide MSDS to appropriate crew
  • failed to ensure all areas of the vessel are properly ventilated

If you are injured due to chemical exposure on a commercial fishing vessel, you may be eligible to receive maintenance and cure benefits, as well as damages for lost wages, pain and suffering, and emotional distress.

Commercial fishermen are exposed to many hazards when they work at sea. State and federal laws are designed to protect the rights of maritime workers.

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