Every year, numerous commercial fishermen are injured at sea while working near plate freezers. These industrial freezers are found on large commercial fishing vessels, usually in freezer trawlers and factory ships. Although many plate freezers are designed for safe and easy use by one person, accidents still occur during the process of loading and unloading blocks of frozen fish.
Risks of Working With Plate Freezers
Commercial fishing vessels and factory ships usually have spaces below decks used to process their catch. These spaces are cramped and full of heavy machinery, including plate freezers, which transform freshly-caught fish into frozen package-ready seafood. Workers use plate freezers to freeze flat products, such as fish fillets, that are packaged in brick-like containers. Plate freezers are usually connected to self-contained condensing units in a vessel’s machinery spaces. They’re commonly used in freezer trawlers that process albacore, salmon, or shrimp.
There are several risks associated with the use of plate freezers. They are used to keep harvested seafood at temperatures averaging between 30 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit below zero. These low temperatures allow workers to freeze fish quickly without the formation of large ice crystals on the fish. However, this makes working around plate freezers dangerous because the plates are so cold. Workers should wear gloves at all times to avoid freezer burn on bare hands.
Plate freezers cause injuries when a freezer trawler is caught in heavy swells during the fish-processing. The most common incident occurs when a ship sways from side to side in rough waters and a freezer pan full of frozen fish is ejected without warning from the hydraulically controlled freezer unit. The metallic pan, which weighs 30 pounds, can shoot across the working space and hit any crewmen in its path, causing severe injuries. Crew members can also be injured while loading or unloading a plate freezer. These actions require workers to perform certain lifting, turning, and twisting movements with their bodies. These movements require careful and precise execution. If they are not properly done, the resulting injuries to muscles and bones often result in time lost from work or disability. In many cases, an employer’s emphasis on speed in the production line makes it hard for crewmen to be careful when working with plate freezers.
In addition, refrigerant gas leaks in plate freezers can cause serious injuries or deaths from suffocations or burns if the gas reaches high levels of concentration in an enclosed space.
Jones Act Compensation in Plate Freezer Accident Cases
Maritime workers accept certain risks when they sign on to work on trawlers, longliners, and fish processing vessels that ply the rough waters of the open sea. Nevertheless, many shipboard accidents, including those involving plate freezers, are unnecessary. Proper maintenance of machinery and a conscientious approach to safe work procedures help prevent needless injuries, lost wages, and permanent disability. Plate freezer accidents are often caused by inadequate training. Poor maintenance of their hydraulic system or their refrigeration components can also contribute to many injuries or even deaths aboard commercial fishing vessels.
Seamen injured on commercial fishing boats or trawlers as a result of plate freezer accidents are eligible for compensation for lost wages and medical expenses. The Jones Act and general maritime law allow injured seamen to file claims against their employers if the owner, captain, or another crew member caused an accident due to negligence or unseaworthiness.The Jones Act also entitles seamen to receive maintenance and cure benefits to cover the costs of medical expenses and rehabilitative services after being injured at work.
Per the Jones Act, a seaman’s employer has an obligation to:
- provide a reasonably safe workplace, and
- keep the vessel where the seaman works properly maintained and in a reasonably safe condition
Injured seamen who are hurt in a plate freezer accident should hire a lawyer to file a suit under the Jones Act if their employer and/or the insurer don’t pay for maintenance and cure, if medical treatment is difficult to get, or if the estimated settlement is valued exceeds the $15,000 to $20,000 range. Seamen also need to file a lawsuit if their employer or the insurer denies compensation by saying that the injured worker caused the accident.