The concepts of ergonomics and industrial hygiene and fundamental safety principles have over the last three decades become the cornerstones of safe workplaces in virtually every industry in the United States in which manual labor, including lifting equipment, product, materials and supplies are tasks required of workers. Except of course the commercial fishing industry. When it comes to the fishermen, vessel owners are not even aware that safety principles exist. Having kept themselves blissfully ignorant, they of course have completely failed to adopt the safety principles that govern virtually every other workplace.
These principles include the establishment of safe lifting practices and procedures, orientation and training on these procedures and practices. And periodic retraining so that every worker is kept constantly aware of how to protect themselves from injuries associated with lifting items that are too heavy, lifting items repeatedly, and/or lifting and carrying items while in awkward postures such as bending, stooping or reaching.
The National Institute of Safety and Health (NIOSH) long ago adopted safe lifting equation which establishes the maximum amount under perfect conditions that any worker should be expected to lift. OSHA requires all employers to establish practices that recognize a duty to institute back prevention measures and to provide a workplace which is free from recognized hazards which are likely to cause physical harm, such as requiring all workers to lift too heavy a load which of course could injure their back.
We have found in our practice that vessel owners have done nothing to comply with these requirements or to otherwise institute and adopt safe lifting practices and techniques in the workplace and we are being retained by fishermen who are injured as a result. This is especially prevalent among more experienced fishermen who are older and whose bodies have endured the wear and tear of these dangerous activities over the course of their career.
In a case that we are currently litigating the vessel owner admitted in a deposition that they did absolutely nothing to carry out their duty to provide a safe workplace and instead left it up to the injured crew member. This is of course a violation of the NIOSH lifting equation, OSHA standards and the vessel owners’ duty under the Jones Act to provide a reasonably safe workplace. The excuse for this – communicated in our cases as the vessel owner’s defense – amounts to “this is the way it’s always been done,” “fishing is dangerous and you should have known that,” and “this is the way every vessel owner does it.”
We expect when juries hear these empty excuses that the vessel owners will be held accountable. If you, a loved one, or anyone you know have been injured due to the absence of safe work protocols on a commercial fishing vessel please do not hesitate to contact us.