Know Your Safety Rights Under the Seaman’s Protection Act

June 11, 2020

Today marks the second installment of our weekly post dedicated to occupational injuries and safety issues in the commercial fishing workplace.

Many of those in the fishing community are forced to work in historically dangerous conditions, many of which could and should be remedied by the vessel owners but are completely ignored. Fortunately there is recourse for any fisherman who is required to work in unsafe conditions. Unfortunately, many, if not most fishermen, are not aware of these rights. In short, the Seaman’s Protection Act 46 U.S.C. §2114 (SPA) enacted by Congress in 1984 protects a seaman from a variety of dangerous workplace activities and vessel owner practices.

Seamen, including fishermen, who are required to work in unsafe conditions have the right to refuse to do so and also to report, for instance, safety violations, to the federal government, primarily either the United States Coast Guard or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Doing so, as well as many other activities a fisherman might employee to protect him- or herself, are considered protected activities under the Act.

The Act also provides that vessel owners cannot retaliate wrongfully against fishermen for exercising these rights.  If they do, they are subject to a number of penalties, including having to pay the fisherman’s legal fee and costs and, in certain circumstances, will be ordered to pay punitive damages.

The Seaman’s Protection Act provides a powerful tool to the injured fisherman. Although navigating its exact legal contours is complicated, we are here for you. If you believe that you have been discriminated against for complaining about working conditions on a vessel, please do not hesitate to contact us to further explore and discuss your potential rights under the SPA.

To view the SPA in Spanish check the link here.