Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19): Workplace Health and Safety Information—Agriculture, Forestry & Fishing

A qualitative/quantitative risk assessment of refrigerant release into engine-rooms and other confined spaces onboard commercial


Confined space entry is a recognized hazard to worker health and safety, with potential for toxic gases or oxygen depleted environments to cause loss of situational awareness, injury and possibly death. Confined space entry onboard commercial fishing vessels (engine-rooms and holds) presences the same, or greater, risk to commercial fishers. Fishers, however, are more tolerant or lack knowledge about the risk. This research is conducting a risk assessment specific to refrigeration systems housed in enginerooms and other confined spaces onboard commercial fishing vessels in order to identify regional disparities of impact, fisher knowledge and tolerance about confined spaces and refrigerant hazards.

Refrigeration systems are used to maintain a space at a preferred temperature (33of). Each typically holds a large volume of Anhydrous Ammonia or Hydrofluorocarbon-based "Freon" refrigerants at high pressure. Illustrated is a system with a pressure release valve that would normally vent any refrigerants overboard if internal pressure raises above designed parameters. As the system is now set, refrigerant will be vented into the space in which the system is housed. The vessel schematic illustrates that this space is at the same level as the crew's quarters, with access limited to a single hatch on the deck of the main cabin. This places the vessel crew at direct risk of death if refrigerants are released due to oxygen displacement or ingestion of toxic fumes, and is a clear sign of ignorance or tolerance of the risk.


With approximately 50% of the nation's commercial fishing fleet having a system housed in a confined space there is a substance risk that can be mitigated through education and outreach program. This research is developing an assessment of the hazard to identify regions wherein the risk is greater. This "Risk Map" will be used to efficiently target the most at-risk population with education and outreach about the hazard, ultimately reducing injuries and fatalities in the fishing community.

Future Efforts:

Faulty equipment situations like that shown are common, and indicates release of refrigerants in confined spaces is more common that the objective data record suggests. Continuing research will outreach to commercial fishers to capture refrigerant release instances that have not been reported. This will improve the risk map, as well as inform the program about attitude and knowledge of confined space hazards onboard commercial fishing vessels.

Faculty and Facility

PI: Christian Salmon (Western New England University)

In partnership with College of Engineering, Western New England University: