Commercial Fishing Fires and Explosions
Commercial fishing is a dangerous profession and fires and explosions are part of those dangers. The Center for Disease Control lists the number of commercial fishing fatalities due to fire/explosion from the years 2000-2009 as 6 deaths (5 percent of deaths due to vessel disasters). Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) warns that confined or enclosed spaces on fishing vessels may not be properly ventilated, cleaned or have proper clear pathways which could all be very dangerous should a fire or explosion occur onboard. Other hazards contributing to fires could be improper storage of toxic chemicals, leaking fuel or oil tanks, poor sewage systems, and high oxygen levels which could help fires burn and spread faster. Federal law defines a “confined space” as any small space with restricted access that can generate or exacerbate hazardous exposure while an “enclosed space” is a space (but not a “confined space”) that has been enclosed by overheads or bulkheads (including crew quarters, tanks, cargo holds and boiler areas) (see 29 CFR § 1915.4(p) and(q)). OSHA recommends continuous testing all spaces for oxygen levels, toxicity and flammable substances. They also suggest monitoring ventilation systems and testing all hoses connecting tanks containing oil, gas, and chemicals.
If a commercial fisherman suffers an injury due to a fire or explosion aboard a fishing vessel, the worker may have a claim against his or her employer (or the owner of the fishing vessel) under the Jones Act. The claimant needs to show any amount of negligence by the employer that contributed to the injury or that the vessel was unseaworthy. The injured fisherman may receive compensatory damages for lost wages, loss of future earnings, pain, and suffering, and court costs. While recovering, the injured fisherman may receive maintenance and cure to cover certain costs while living ashore (rent, food, and utilities) and to cover medical expenses until he or she returns to work or has reached the maximum improvement for his or her condition.