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PREVENTING REPETITIVE STRESS INJURIES ABOARD FISH PROCESSING VESSELS

It is the duty of fishing vessel owners and employers to teach their crewman how to avoid repetitive stress injuries. It is also the duty of the vessel owners and employers to provide their crewmen with proper tools and equipment to avoid such injuries. Proper risk assessments should be preformed by all employers to minimize the risk of injuries to crewmen doing repetitive fish processing tasks.

Repetitive stress injuries frequently occur to fish processors working on fish processing vessel in Alaska and Washington. Even the most experienced crewmen may fall victim to repetitive stress injuries. Carpal tunnel syndrome caused by repetitive motion is a frequent injury to fish processors. It shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone that doing a repetitive movement job 16 hours a day for several weeks straight can lead to physical injuries. Humans are not machines and we were not physically designed to do repetitive tasks. It is well recognized that prevention of repetitive trauma injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis aboard fish processing vessels requires frequent rotation of job positions and proper ergonomic design of the fish processing factory. Crewmen should be rotated through job positions which require different body positions and movements.

Tendons are extremely tough fibers that connect our muscles to our bones. The tendons may be come stressed, irritated, and swollen as a result of preforming repetitive motions. These tendonitis symptoms may lead to nerve compression if a worker continues to do the repetitive motions. When the tendons swell up, they can begin to push against nerves. This is frequently seen in an area of the hand referred to as the carpal tunnel. In this area, the tendons and nerves pass through a narrow tunnel from the arm into the hand. When the tendons swell from repetitive stress they compress the nerves. Symptoms of carpal tunnel include numbness, tingling, burning sensations, and weakness in the hand.

Crewmen who exhibit signs of repetitive stress injuries should be given rest. Continuing to work after the onset of symptoms may aggravate and worsen the condition. Supervisors who urge crewmen to "work through the pain," "tough it out," or claim that "every one has pain," are exposing their crewmen to potentially permanent and disabling injuries. Sending a crewman back to work with a splint without first having a proper medical examination is simply asking for injury. When there is any doubt about the whether or not a crewman is suffering from a repetitive stress injury, competent medical advice should be obtained. All foremen and supervisors should be fully trained in recognizing the symptoms of repetitive stress injuries.

The failure of a fish processing vessel owner and employer to properly protect seamen from repetitive stress injuries may give rise to claims for negligence and unseaworthiness. Many crewmen who suffer these injuries are forever prohibited from working as fisherman in the future

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Stacey & Jacobsen, PLLC
4039 21st Avenue West
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Seattle, WA 98199

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