Alaska Fishing Industry Job Safety
Processing jobs tend to be far less dangerous than fishing jobs. Nevertheless, some processing workers get sick or hurt badly enough to require medical treatment and occasional evacuation.
At its simplest, the processing industry involves gutting fish. Most industry employees use knives to do this; more than a few cut themselves. The best ways to avoid cuts are to pay close attention to what you're doing and to wear protective gloves. If you do cut yourself, bring it to the attention of your supervisor immediately.
When one of the authors worked in a processing plant in Ketchikan, several employees got an ugly, painful rash on their hands that the veteran slimers called "fish poisoning." This was either caused by the salmon itself, or by poison jellyfish slime brought up in the nets. To protect yourself, avoid any direct contact between the fish and your skin by using good gloves. If you do get fish poisoning, don't worry. Most pharmacists in fishing towns sell a salve to treat the condition.
Forklift and other heavy machinery operators get paid more than slime line workers, and the work is far less monotonous. Some newcomers to the industry may be tempted to overstate their qualifications to get a job operating machinery. Don't do this! First of all, you'll probably be fired once you're found out, and if you aren't, you'll almost certainly be relegated to the far end of the slime line - the bottom of the totem pole. Secondly, operating heavy machinery is dangerous. Forklifts are very awkward and heavy. If operated ineptly, they can damage property and injure people. Heavy machinery operators must be trained. If you want to learn to operate machinery, tell the manager when you apply. If an opening occurs, you may be lucky enough to get the call.
Wrist and Hand Pain
Processing work often involves a lot of repetitive hand and wrist movements that can result in forearm and wrist pain, a common complaint among processing workers. For most people the discomfort is mild and only temporary, but for a few it can develop into a more persistent and painful malady called carpal tunnel syndrome.
Fatigue, Flu, and Colds
Most people's bodies aren't used to working in cold, wet conditions at all, let alone for 16-plus hours a day. For this reason, the most common health problems among processor employees are fatigue, flu, and the common cold. To combat these problems, be sure to eat healthy meals regularly, and get plenty of rest.
Keep in mind that it's impossible to work 16 hours, read for a couple hours, eat three meals, have a few beers, and still get a good night's sleep. Most likely, your daily routine (except on weekends and days off) will be: eat, work, eat, work, eat, sleep (and then start over). Your overtime pay rate helps keep you motivated during the season.