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Safety and Ergonomics: Why is the Fishing Industry so Slow to Adapt?

October 29, 2020

Have you ever heard of “ergonomics” or “industrial hygiene”? 

Ergonomics is the study of a person’s working environment. Industrial hygiene is the science of protecting and enhancing the health and safety of people at work and includes studying and dealing with the health and safety hazards in the workplace.

These concepts were hardly know through the mid-1900s but slowly gained traction to the point that they are now considered scientific disciplines and, in fact, are fields of major study at some of our best colleges and universities. In addition, most industrial workplaces in the United States have recognized and embraced these concepts and used them to improve the safety of their workplaces and the working conditions of their employees. In fact, many industries have employees who are trained ergonomists and industrial hygienists whose sole job it is to study the workplace, to observe it, and to maintain safe working conditions  They are tasked with constantly seeking improvements in the healthy working environment and safety across industries except one workplace that we know of – the fishing industry.

You will never find an ergonomist on the staff of any fishing vessel. Nor will you find an industrial hygienist. You are also unlikely to find in the entire United States fleet, a vessel that has had an ergonomist or an industrial hygienist look at the working conditions on their vessels. Instead, even routine operations on boats, things that are accepted as “just the way it is,” are non-ergonomic and dangerous.

In any other industry these things would be eliminated by improvements to the conditions, to the equipment, to the tools, to the tasks, to whatever it would take to make such dangerous working conditions safer.

This is why American industries over the last fifty years or so have invested so much money in ergonomics and industrial hygiene for one purpose – to make the work conditions that its employees face safer and healthier, and to eliminate accidents and injuries.

In stark contrast, vessel owners and captains couldn’t care less. For decades the fishing industry has turned a blind eye to safety and health and perhaps nothing bears this out more than the fact that these terms – “ergonomics” and “industrial hygiene – might as well be a different language on the docks of New Bedford, Gloucester, and other places where fishermen make a living.

We are starting in our cases to attack vessels and vessel owners for their failure to employ the most basic ergonomic and industrial hygiene principles. We are retaining some of the most pre-eminent experts in these fields to advance our theories.

If you have been injured on a vessel, even by an accepted practice, or some piece of equipment that the vessel owner tells you has always been there and there’s no better way to do it, please contact us via email or at (617) 773-5500, so we can discuss how ergonomics and industrial hygiene would have made your workplace better. We can  help you to explore your rights under the Jones Act and general maritime principles including seaworthiness, and your potential right to sue your employer for damages if your injury has been caused by a non-ergonomic or industrial dangerous tool, piece of equipment or practice.