April 23, 2009


Commercial fishing, also known as industrial fishing, has been around for centuries. Fishing provides a large quantity of food to many countries around the world and employs between 80,000-160,000 fishermen in the U.S. alone (NIOSH, 2008). Although, the work is very beneficial and provides livelihood for many, the practice itself has remained unchanged and often involves long hours, far out from shore, under adverse conditions, which can result in a variety of consequences, including fatalities (McDonald & Kucera, 2007).

The high incidence of injury and fatality in the commercial fishing industry has brought about National concern (Van Noy, 1995). During 2000-2006, commercial fishing was considered one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States with an average annual fatality rate of 115 deaths per 100,000 fishermen (CDC, 2008). This rate is about 36 times greater than the fatality rate of all U.S. workers (NIOSH; Lincoln et al., 2008). Some of the major causes of fishing fatalities and injuries are falling overboard and drowning or dying from resulting hypothermia and equipment malfunctions (NIOSH, 2008).


April 28, 2009

Estimated Costs

According to NIOSH data from 2003; farming, fishing, and forestry occupations have the highest number of fatalities in the U.S. (7,936 people). The costs of these fatalities were roughly $3,774 million with an average of $482,000 per fatality (NIOSH, 2006). Data taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Annual Survey in 1993, ranked Alaska 1st in the number of workers employed in an agricultural, forestry, or fishing industry. Because there are such a high number of workers employed in the fishing industry in Alaska, there are also high costs associated with commercial fishing injuries and fatalities. Data from Waehrer et al. (2004) looked at statistics taken from the 1993 Bureau of Labor Survey, and found that Alaska has the highest % of costs resulting from fatalities (53.9%), with $160 million for non-fatal injuries and $187 million for fatal injuries. The data does not specify what occupations were the major contributors to the high costs, but because commercial fishing is one of the main industries in Alaska, one can speculate that it is playing a big factor.


Trends Over Time

During the early 1990’s, commercial fishing fatalities made up 33% of all occupational fatalities in Alaska (NIOSH, 2008). Because of the high fatality rates, safety improvements were made in the Alaska fisheries, mostly involving the implementation of new regulations and safety training programs. These programs have helped to decrease the number of injuries and fatalities in the Alaska fishing industry (NIOSH, 2008; NIOSH[2], 2008). Within the last 16 years (1990-2006), there has been a 51% decline of the rate of fatalities in Alaska Commercial Fishing (Lincoln, 2008).

Other U.S. states, specifically on the Pacific Coast, need similar safety interventions to decrease fatalities. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has studied data on commercial fishing fatalities from California, Oregon, and Washington during 2000-2006. They found that the average annual fatality rate for the three states combined was 238 deaths per 100,000 (CDC, 2008). Trends show that during these six years, the annual fatality for California, Oregon, and Washington was twice as high as both the national average fatality rates and the Alaska fishing fatalities (Lincoln, 2008). Implementation of new regulations and safety training similar to the programs developed in Alaska may help decrease fatality rates.



April 29, 2009

Risk Factors


Data from the House Subcommittee on Fisheries and Wildlife Conservation in 1971 showed that four types of injury events accounted for over 80% of the total annual casualties nationwide in the commercial fishing occupation (Redfield, 1971).

• Machinery Failure (26%)
• Collision (21%)
• Grounding (19%)
• Flooding/Sinking (17%)

A more recent review of fatalities resulting from commercial fishing was conducted by the U.S. Coast Guard during 1994-2004. The results from the study showed that in addition to the four types of injury events above, falls overboard were also a major cause of injury and fatalitity.

• Falling Overboard (29%)

The book entitled Out on the Deep Blue, edited by Leslie Leyland Fields (2001), discusses the occupation of commercial fishing and what governs the activities:

“Tasks are done fast forward, so repetitive and at such speeds and for such a length of time that they are best done unthinkingly, instinctively, automatically. Your worth, both economic and personal, is often measured in terms of how fast you can bait the halibut hooks, how quickly you can pick fish, how long you can work without sleep.” (p. viii)

Additional Risk Factors:

• Working long hours
• Working at a fast pace
• Tiredness
• Inattention
• Behavioral determinants (carelessness, unsafe movement/practice)
• Type of fishery (Crab Fishing)
• Equipment Used
• Job of crewman (Deckman)


Factors Limiting Progress

Currently both the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) are responsible for the safety of commercial fishermen. Because OSHA only has jurisdiction 3 miles from the shoreline, the USCG is the main enforcer (Lincoln et al., 2008). However, efforts to maintain safety have been mostly voluntary and formed in pieces (Van Noy, 1995). In 1988, the U.S. Commercial Fishing Industry Vessel Safety Act (CFIVSA) was developed. The U.S. Coast Guard is responsible for enforcing the Act by conducting vessel inspections to check for drugs, illegal fishing, and safety violations (CDC, 2008).


• Inspections are NOT conducted on a regular basis
• Primary concerns of CFIVSA is to save lives AFTER ship has gone under
• NOT preventive measures
• U.S. Coast Guard enforcement limited
• LACK of safety equipment on board
• LACK of training on how to use equipment
• NO unions for small scale fishermen
• INCOMPLETE data (U.S. Coast Guard databases)

The Alaska Marine Safety Education Association (AMSEA) was formed to provide safety training (Marine Safety Instructor-Training) to Alaska’s fishing communities. In 1991, the AMSEA developed a drill instructor course that focused on use of survival equipment and procedures on what to do if there is a vessel casualty. Between the years of 1991 and 2000, a total of 4,000 people were certified by AMSEA reducing the number of fishing vessel fatalities in Alaska (Dzugan, 2000). A study by the U.S. Coast Guard in 2000, found that those fishermen on vessels containing AMSEA trained drill instructors were 1.7 times more likely to survive a fishing vessel incident than vessels without trained individuals (Dzugan, 2000).

Problems with Training Program:

• NO required refresher course
• NOT all fishermen are required to take survival course
• NEED for additional programs globally

The prevalence of occupational injuries and fatalities in commercial fishing is a huge problem that needs to be resolved. Creating stricter policies regarding training, inspections, and safety programs will help enforce/ensure safety. Improving the statistics and databases on injury/fatal events will help us better understand the magnitude of the problem and see where prevention and control can be implemented.


April 30, 2009

Epidemiological Approach for Prevention and Control

Creating a Haddon’s Matrix and analyzing the interaction of behavior, environment, and policy is one way to identify preventive measures and research needs (Robertson, 2007).




Physical Environment

Social Environment


Alcohol and Drug Use; Attention span; Employee training; ability to swim; fatigue

Safety equipment available (life boats); condition of vessel during inspections; vehicle capacity; operating radios; flares; maps

Weather conditions; visibility; depth of water; warning signs; radios to contact US coast guards

Training programs offered for equipment use; safety regulations: use of life vests; proper inspections on vessel; Alcohol consumption laws


Human tolerance to water impact temperature tolerance (drowning/hypothermia); use of life jackets

Crash worthiness of the vessel; impact capacity; ability to reduce speed

Height of waves; depth of water; amount of impacts; integrity of vessel

Mandated use of safety equipment


Health status: Fatal or Non Fatal; Age of Occupant/Ability to recover and other Health issues

Ability of vessel to be repaired; burn-resistant features; placement of fuel tanks

Availability of effective and timely emergency response

Workmen's compensation; medical bills; support and medical rehabilitation services; Unions to support small scale fishing operations

• Employee Training and Safety Awareness (safety protocols and equipment use)
• Eliminate inexperienced workers
• Set reasonable work hours to reduce fatigue and inattention

• Inspections on a regular basis
• Maintenance of vessels
• Availability of safety equipment (life rafts and immersion suits)

Environmental/Social Factors:
• Watch for weather advisories
• Proper equipment (radios, maps)
• Emergency response plans
• Creation of unions for small scale operations
• Develop Safety Regulations to help decrease insurance costs


May 4, 2009

Looking Towards the Future

Ten Strategies for Injury Control
sPic 5.jpg
1. Eliminate the creation of the hazard in the first place*
(Changes in design, emergency stop buttons, ergonomics)
2. Reduce amount of the hazard*
(Stricter regulations for inspections and training programs)
3. Prevent release of hazard that exists
4. Modify rate or distribution of release of hazard
5. Separate hazard in time or space
6. Separate hazard and that which is to be protected*
(Life jackets, floating devices, location of fuel tanks, guards and shields on equipment)
7. Modify basic qualities of hazard
8. Make protected items more resistant to damage
9. Counter the damage
10. Repair or stabilize the object damaged

* Most appropriate for addressing commercial fishing injuries/fatalities


Eliminate Creation of the Hazard

Many injuries to fishermen are caused by entanglement in lines, getting stuck on a winch or pulley and other deck equipment (Lincoln et al., 2008). In 2002, NIOSH met with a group of fishermen from Alaska to discuss dangers on fishing vessels. A large number of the men identified winches, which consist of a rotating drum used to reel in the nets and lines, as a major cause of injury. Often times the men will get entangled in a fishing line and end up in the winch which can crush limbs or cause death. A major problem with the winch is that the controls to stop the motor are located toward the front of the winch and are difficult to reach if you are caught/entangled (Lincoln et al., 2008).

By using simple ergonomics, engineers were able to design an emergency stop button on the top of the winch and in an easy-to-reach location. This is an excellent example of preventing the creation of the hazard in the first place. By identifying potential hazards and analyzing what simple changes can be made in the design, a number of injuries can be prevented. Additional research should be conducted on the necessity of emergency stop buttons on other pieces of fishing equipment.
Image of a skipper operating a capstan deck winch, a piece of equipment which is usually very hazardous, however, an emergency stop button has been created for the top of the winch to provide extra safety precautions.


Reduce Amount of Hazard

By creating stricter regulations and conducting vessel inspections, the amount of hazard brought into being can be reduced. Vessel inspections may identify faulty equipment, mechanical problems, and improper or lack of safety equipment. Stricter regulations and training requirements will help employees understand how to properly use equipment and reduce injuries from misuse of equipment. This will also help employees become more aware of their working environment so that they can identify when something is not right.


Separate Hazard from What is Being Protected

Lastly, separating that which is to be protected (people) from hazards by a barrier is a great strategy in injury prevention. Fatalities from falling overboard can be as high as 29% (Lincoln et al., 2008); by providing life jackets and other float devices, the number of drowning can be reduced. Ensuring that fuel tanks are not placed in areas of high activity and are properly covered and maintained may help reduce injuries due to fires and explosions. Placing protective guards or shields around sharp or dangerous equipment will also prevent additional injuries. Additional research on the true needs and concerns of fishermen may be helpful to find problem areas and determine solutions. By discussing with fishermen, the types of injuries they have experienced, the severity, and how often the injuries have occurred, more precise and accurate data may be collected to help move forward in the solutions. sPic 4.jpg


Conclusion & References

Although the prevalence of fatalities and injuries in occupational fishing operations are extremely high, compared to other occupations, there is hope. By looking at available data, and identifying problem areas, solutions and preventive methods can be put in place to help reduce risk factors.


Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2008). Commercial fishing fatalities—California, Oregon, and Washington, 2000-2006.The Journal of the American Medical Association, 300(13), p. 1510-1511.

Dzugan, Jerry. (October 23-25, 2000). A port-based fishing safety instructor network, and the second follow-up study on its effects on fishing fatalities (1995-1999) in Alaska. International Fishing Industry Safety and Health Conference, p. 373-377.

Lincoln, Jennifer. (2008). CDC media briefing: Interview on commercial fishing fatalities. Retrieved April 20, 2009, from http://www.docstoc.com/docs/609352/CDC-Media-Briefing-Commercial-Fishing-Fatalities-Full-Transcript

Lincoln, J.M., Lucas, D.L., McKibbin, R. W., Woodward, C.C., & Bevan, J.E. (2008). Reducing commercial fishing deck hazards with engineering solutions for winch design. Journal of Safety Research, 39, p. 231-235.

Leyland Fields, Leslie. (2001). Out on the Deep Blue. St. Martin’s Press: New York.

McDonald, M.A., & Kucera, K.L. (2007). Understanding non-industrialized workers’ approaches to safety: How do commercial fishermen “stay safe”? Journal of Safety Research, 38, p. 289-297.

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. (2008). Commercial fishing safety. Retrieved February 23, 2009, from NIOSH Web site: http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/fishing

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health [2]. (2008). Commercial fishing fatalities in Alaska: Public health summary. Retrieved February 23, 2009, from NIOSH Web site: http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/fishphs.html

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. (2006). NIOSH fatal occupational injury cost fact sheet: Agriculture, forestry, and fishing. Retrieved April 24, 2009, from NIOSH Web site: http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2006-151/

Redfield, Michael. (1971). Costs and Profitability in the Commercial Fishing Industry: The Insurance Dilemma. Division of Marine Resources, University of Washington, Seattle.

Robertson, Leon. (2007). Injury Epidemiology: Research and Control Strategies. Oxford University Press, Inc.: New York, New York.

Van Noy, Marlene. (1995). Toward a systematic approach to safety in the commercial fishing industry. Journal of Safety Research, 26(1), p. 19-29.

Waehrer, G., Leigh, P., Cassady, D., & Miller, T. (2004). Costs of occupational injury and illness across states. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 46(10), p. 1084-1095.


May 5, 2009

Additional Information

Here are some available links to additional information on Commercial Fishing Injuries/Fatalities: