Safety in the Amendment 80 Fleet

By Devin Lucas
A new study by researchers at the National Institute for
Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has assessed worker safety in the
Amendment 80 fleet of factory-trawlers in Alaska. NIOSH is the federal agency
responsible for conducting scientific research and making evidence-based
recommendations to prevent workplace injury and illness. The NIOSH Alaska
Pacific Office has been involved with research on worker safety in the
commercial fishing industry since 1991.
Amendment 80 vessels catch, process and freeze fish onboard
the vessel. To conduct these operations, these vessels have larger crew
complements than catcher vessels. The majority of Amendment 80 vessel crews are
not professional mariners, but instead are fish processing workers. In addition
to large crews, these vessels also carry processing and freezing machinery,
hazardous gases for refrigeration, and large amounts of combustible packaging
materials, which create hazards that do not exist on catcher vessels. Amendment
80 vessels operate nearly year round. Because of their ability to freeze,
package, and store frozen catch, these vessels can operate in the most remote
areas of Alaska for extended periods of time, far away from search and rescue
To assess vessel safety in the Amendment 80 fleet, NIOSH
researchers analyzed data on a selection of marine casualties including
personnel casualties (e.g., fatal and non-fatal work-related injuries) and
vessel casualties (e.g., sinking, grounding, collision, flooding, fire, loss of
propulsion, loss of electrical power, and loss of steering).
During 2001-2012, 24 Amendment 80 vessels operated in Alaskan
waters at some time. A total of 772 marine casualties were reported, of which
409 were work-related injuries. Of the 409 injuries, 25 were fatal and 384 were
non-fatal. Approximately half of injuries were minor and 39 percent were
moderate. Most of the fatal injuries occurred during two vessel disasters, the
sinking of the Arctic Rose in 2001 (15 deaths) and the sinking of the Alaska
Ranger in 2008 (5 deaths). The other five fatal injuries were caused by
drowning after falling overboard (3 deaths) and blunt force trauma due to being
struck by a cable and a hydraulic door (2 deaths).
The injury rates measured in the Amendment 80 fleet showed
that workers on those vessels were at high risk for work-related injuries. The
risk of fatal injury was 41 times higher than for all US workers, and the risk
of non-fatal injury was four times higher than for all US workers. Compared to
other fisheries in the US, the fatality rate in the Amendment 80 fleet was
lower than in many others, including the Northeast US groundfish trawl fleet,
Atlantic scallop fleet, and West coast Dungeness crab fleet. However, both the
fatality rate and non-fatal injury rate in the A80 fleet were higher than in
the similar Alaska freezer-longline fleet.
The job tasks associated with the highest number of injuries
were handling frozen fish, processing fish, and foot traffic onboard. The
specific job tasks that were associated with the most injuries while handling
frozen fish were stacking blocks of fish in the freezer hold and offloading
product. Handling frozen fish was the most common job task for undiagnosed
pain/swelling, sprains/strains/tears, contusions, fractures, crushing injuries,
and intracranial injuries. Handling frozen fish injuries were most often caused
by being struck by a box of frozen fish and by single episodes of overexertion.
Fish products manufactured in the factories onboard A80
vessels are frozen in plate freezers and then packaged and stored in freezer
holds. Boxes of frozen fish products are moved around by a combination of
conveyor systems, chutes and manual labor. The job task of handling frozen fish
was responsible for nearly half of all injuries and should be a priority area
for injury prevention strategies. Injury prevention solutions are needed to
protect workers from being struck by boxes of frozen fish, especially while
stacking boxes in the freezer holds and during offload. Ergonomic interventions
are also needed to prevent injuries caused by single episodes of overexertion
while manually moving boxes of fish.
The job task of processing fish was responsible for most of
the laceration/puncture/avulsion injuries, amputations, and poisonings. These
injuries were most often caused by being caught in running equipment and by
slipping knives. The factories onboard A80 vessels are equipped with fish
processing machinery and conveyor systems to move fish from one machine to the
next. The machines have different levels of automation that either increase or
decrease the need for worker contact. The injuries sustained while processing
fish were different in nature from those sustained while handling frozen fish,
suggesting that successful injury prevention efforts must also be different.
Interventions to reduce injuries need to target the specific hazards
encountered while processing fish that cause lacerations, punctures, avulsions
and amputations, which were the most frequent types of injuries associated with
processing fish. Working with knives and running equipment are exposures of
particular concern that need to be a high priority.
Aside from worker injuries, there were also 357 vessel
casualties during 2001-2012. The majority of vessel casualties were minor (73
percent), meaning that the problem was resolved permanently by the crew at sea
without any third-party assistance. Moderate vessel casualties were defined as
problems that required the vessel to return immediately to port for repairs,
accounting for 20 percent of reported casualties. The remaining 7 percent of
vessel casualties were serious, meaning that the vessel was unable to cope with
the problem at sea on its own and had to be rescued by a third party (such as
being towed to port).