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On-board hazards, part 1: fall protection

When you work on a commercial fishing vessel, on-board hazards are certainly not the only ones you have to contend with. Vessel disasters and falls overboard are responsible for more fatalities than injuries that happen on board.

On-board hazards, however, account for the majority of non-fatal injuries to U.S. commercial fishermen that require hospitalization.

In this three-part post, we will discuss three types of on-board hazards: falls, confined spaces and working with refrigerants. Let's start with falls, using a Q & A format.

Are there government standards for fall protection aboard commercial fishing vessels?

Yes. For fisheries off the West Coast and Alaska, the Coast Guard is responsible for safety standards for vessels that operate more than three miles from shore. For activities within three miles of shore (or nine miles along the Gulf Coast), the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration also has certain responsibilities.

What type of work practices can protect against possible falls?

When the deck gets wet, it can lead to many slips and falls. This is especially true when rolling seas cause the deck to pitch and roll. It is therefore very important that vessel operators take reasonable steps to try to keep the deck clear.

Another key task is to identify fall hazards in advance, before the seas get rough and the work gets heavy. Work platforms and staging areas that are five or more feet above deck must have appropriate guardrails, ropes or other restraints. There are similar regulations for open hatches.

Use of proper equipment is very important in protecting against falls. For example, federal regulations require fall-restraint and fall-arrest systems, such as a fixed lanyard, in certain situations. Merely having a rope around a worker's waist is not necessarily enough to provide proper fall protection.

Is there a significant risk of falling when boarding a vessel?

Absolutely. That is why a well established fall-protection practice is to designate a secure ladder or gangway for boarding.

What about protecting against falls when working in heavy weather?

No matter how well you prepare, it can get rough out there on the water. But following safety protocols can help minimize the number of falls. And if you are injured in a fall, there are legal avenues for pursuing just compensation.

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