The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recently released a very detailed analysis of injuries suffered by the crews of freezer trawlers and freezer longliners operating in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska from 2001 to 2012. The 11-page report published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine looks at fatal and non-fatal injuries; lists the nature of the injury, such as fracture, amputation, laceration, contusion; and notes the task being performed when the injury occurred, such as processing, handling frozen fish and hauling the gear.
One purpose of the study is to give boat owners, the Coast Guard and academic researchers information they can use to design equipment and develop work practices to eliminate as many injuries as possible.
They could start with the freezer trawler fleet, which had a fatal injury rate nearly twice that of the freezer longline boats, while the non-fatal injuries were 22 percent higher.
A majority of the non-fatal injuries among the freezer trawler boats took place while handling frozen fish in the freezer holds. Those accounted for 139 of the 409 injuries. Many of those injuries took place while stacking blocks of frozen fish. Second on the list was processing fish in the factories with 72 injures. The level of severity went from minor to serious.
There were 25 fatal injuries in the freezer trawler fleet with 20 deaths stemming from the sinking of the Arctic Rose in 2001, followed by the sinking of the Alaska Ranger in 2008.
Three of the five remaining deaths came as a result of falling overboard, one from being struck by a trawl cable and another from being hit by a hydraulic door.
In the case of the freezer longlining boats, a majority of the accidents took place on deck. The roller was the culprit, inflicting the crew with lacerations, punctures and avulsions from flying hooks. There were 61 injuries, mostly from working the roller. The freezer hold, responsible for 51 injuries took second place.
The freezer longline fleet had nine fatalities between 2001 and 2012. Three people died when the 180-foot freezer longliner Galaxy caught fire and sank in the Bering Sea in 2002. Three of the remaining six deaths were by drowning, two from blunt force trauma after being caught in a conveyor belt, and one from asphyxiation after being exposed to Freon in a confined space.
The injury rates for both the freezer trawler and longline fleets may be much higher as the report’s authors note some injuries were unreported. “Not all injuries were accounted for in this study,” the report says, “and thus the true risk of injury exceeds the amount measured in this study.”
Still, it’s obvious that enough people are being injured and dying that work should be done to make onboard work areas safer.