Accident prevention in fisheries

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Klaus Kuhl, The Cooperation Centre (Kooperationsstelle), Hamburg


Introduction

Concerning fatal accidents the fishing and aquaculture subsector of the European Union has an incidence rate (i.e. figures corresponding to the number of workers employed in the subsector) of 16.75, which is about eight times higher than average (2.05) and comes third behind forestry and logging, and mining of metal ores. It is therefore among the most dangerous subsectors in the European Union (EU27).

This article will look at typical problems in this sector, describing the reasons and highlighting prevention and control measures.


Definitions and descriptions

This article looks at commercial fishing and leaves out fishing as leisure and recreational activity. The European sector definition includes not only catching, transporting and landing living resources from the sea, from lakes, rivers, canals, etc., but also the operation of fish hatcheries and fish farms, as well as processing of the catch onboard fishing vessels.

Fishing can be further subdivided by the location, where the fish is caught, e.g. deep-sea fishing and coastal fishing. Another distinction is made by the methods employed, and by the type of vessel or equipment used.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) defines a fishing vessel as any ship or boat used or intended to be used for the purpose of commercial fishing.[1] The European community defines it more strictly as any vessel flying the flag of a Member State or registered under the plenary jurisdiction of a Member State and used for commercial purposes either for catching or for catching and processing fish or other living resources from the sea. [2]

Fishing methods, types of vessels and equipment

Bottom trawling and mid-water trawling are among the most common methods, whereby large nets (trawls) are pulled by the trawlers called vessels either over the sea bottom or somewhere between bottom and surface at a specified depth. Modern trawlers are usually decked vessels designed for robustness. Their superstructure (wheelhouse and accommodation) can be forward, midship or aft. Motorised winches, electronic navigation and sonar systems are usually installed. Fishing equipment varies in sophistication depending on the size of the vessel and the technology used. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) classifies the trawlers according to the fishing gear they use into e.g. outrigger and stern trawlers. [3]

However fishing vessels can be of widely varying sizes, depending on whether they are ocean going or confined to coastal or inland fishing, depending on the size of the company, such as large enterprises, small companies or artisanal fisheries, and depending on the methods employed. Wet-fish trawlers and factory ships are used for deep-sea fishing, and small trawlers are used in middle-water sea fishing. Small, partially open vessels and shellfish vessels are used for coastal fishing. In deep-sea fishing, large trawlers (longer than 45m) catch the fish, process it and store it on ice. A crew of between 8 and 16 men work on board. A trip usually lasts 2-4 weeks. On factory ships, the fish is caught, processed and deep-frozen. The crew consists of approx. 60 men a trip lasts up to 6 month.[4]

Major fishing methods depend on the target species and include: trawling, purse seining (encircling gear), line fishing, and drift gill nets..[4]

Jensen and colleagues suggested in 2003 a classification of working processes to facilitate occupational hazard coding on industrial trawlers and five other fishing methods, namely Danish seines, gill-netters, pound net, trawling, and beam trawling.[5] They related the suggested working processes to the number of injuries reported to the Danish Maritime Authority by vessels sailing the waters of Denmark, Greenland, and the Faroe Islands (1996-2000). The most dangerous processes were: hauling the gear, preparing the gear (nets), traffic (i.e. persons moving on the ship, e.g. while embarking or disembarking), handling fish (others).

The European Union defines the personnel working on board a fishing vessel as follows[2]:

  • "Worker": any person carrying out an occupation on board a vessel, excluding shore personnel;
  • "Owner": the registered owner of a vessel or, where applicable, the demise charterer or person managing the vessel;
  • "Captain": (skipper) the worker who commands the vessel or has the responsibility for doing so.
  • "Employer: the person who has an employment relationship with the worker. This may be the owner, the skipper, or some other person.
  • "Worker": any person employed by an employer, including trainees and apprentices.

Figures and trends

Comparing the three overarching sectors of the economy in the EU27 - agriculture, industry and service - service is the largest. Its proportion of employment continues to grow (from 63.1% in 2000 to 66.9% in 2007).[6] Fisheries ranges among the last sectors considering employment and gross value added (GVA) (see: Sectors and occupations). Nevertheless, fish provides a considerable proportion of human alimentation in the European Union. Considering the time between 1995 and 2007 in Germany the meat consumption remained at around 61 kg per person, the potato consumption decreased somewhat to 63.5 kg whereas fish consumption increased from 13.5 to 16.4 kg.[7] In the European Union the average consumption of fishery and aquaculture products was 23.1 kg per person in 2011.[8] This underlines the importance of this sector for food security. But the technical progress has led to overfishing and the European Community was compelled to enforce strict fish quotas. Since 2013 the measures seem to pay of as some fish stocks tend to recover.

Other important issues in this subsector include conflicts of interests in international waters, fishing zones used as maritime routes or the cohabitation of energy production activities (drilling platforms, wind farms, etc.) and fishing, recreational or aquaculture activities, the monitoring of seas to ensure control and security and to combat illegal activities. All these cannot be managed without strong international cooperation.[8]

Fatal accidents

Fishing used to be a NACE defined sector of its own (category B). But since the 2008 revision it has become a subsector of NACE category A – agriculture, forestry and fishing, making it difficult to compare figure before and after 2008. The following comparative table shows the number and trends of fatal accidents in all sectors and in selected sub-sectors.

Table 1: Fatal accidents EU-27 (and in comparison with the fishing and aquaculture subsectors in Spain, Ireland, Romania, and Iceland)

2005 2008 2009 2011 2012 Change

[%]

Position

Incidence

Number

Incidence*

Number

Incidence

Number

Incidence

Number

Incidence

All sectors (NACE section level) 4895

2.27

3878

2.05

-20.8

-9.7

Forestry and logging (NACE sub-section A02) 123

23.06

99

18.63

-19.5

-19,2

8

1

Mining of metal ores (NACE sub-section B07) 6

15.03

9

18.41

+50.0

+22.5

55

2

Fishing (NACE 1.1 code B***)

27.8

Fishing and aquaculture (NACE sub-section A03) 36

23.03

27

16.72

-25.0

-27.4

31

3

Other mining and quarrying

(NACE section B08)

42

17.21

35

15.47

-16.7

-10.1

23

4

Construction – Civil engineering (NACE sub-section F42) 168

10.14

153

9.37

-8.9

-7.6

6

6

Manufacture of fabricated metal products (except machinery and equipment) (NACE sub-section C25) 144

3.9

116

3.18

-19.4

-18.5

7

20

Spain, Fishing and aquaculture (NACE sub-sector B05) 7

15.84

9

0**

7

0**

0

-100.0

1

Last

Ireland (B05) 5

0**

7

0**

+40.0 1

Last

Romania (B05) 0

0

1

0

./.

0

3

Last

Iceland (B05) 0

0

./.

./.

Last

Last


(*) Cases per 100,000 workers (**) Eurostat indicates a zero but a comparison with the Spanish figures in 2009 suggests there might be an error. (***) Fishing, operation of fish hatcheries and fish farms; service activities incidental to fishing

Source: Compiled by the author, based on Eurostat[9] and EC study[6]

The table shows that the fishing and aquaculture subsector has an incidence rate (i.e. figures corresponding to the number of workers employed in the subsector) that is much higher than the average (2.05) and comes third behind forestry and logging (NACE A02) and mining of metal ores (NACE B07). It is therefore among the most dangerous subsectors in the European Union (EU27).

Gender

Unfortunately Eurostat, does not provide these data for the subsector fishing. Therefore the following table shows the difference in fatal accidents in the sector A, i.e. combining agriculture, forestry and fishing, according to gender.

Table 2: Fatal accidents in the Agriculture, forestry and fishing sector by gender in the EU15 plus Norway

Industrial sector Fatal accidents per 100,000 workers, (incidence rate) Change

[ % ]

1998 2004 2007
Agriculture, forestry and fishing 12.5 12.2 8.8 -30
Males

Females

16.6

3.4

17.2

2.5

12.1

1.6

-27

-53

Source: Based on Eurostat[10]

The comparatively low incidence rate among females can probably be attributed to women working in lower risk workplaces such as factories and offices.

Company size

Similarly, Eurostat does not provide these data for the subsectors. Therefore the following table shows the relationship between fatal accidents in the sector A, i.e. combining agriculture, forestry and fishing, and the company size.

Table 3: Breakdown of fatal accidents in the agriculture, forestry and fishing sector (NACE code A), according to company size (EU27) (number of accidents)

Total Zero (self-employed) From 1 to 9 workers From 10 to 49 workers From 50 to 249 workers From 250 to 499 workers 500 workers or more Unkown
2008 591 26 85 64 30 9 7 370
2010 573 42 88 63 32 2 7 339
2012 519 60 86 54 27 11 8 273

Source: Eurostat[11]

The high figures in the category “Unknown” indicate a high degree of uncertainty of this table. However, it seems likely that the highest numbers of fatal accidents can be observed in micro enterprises and among the self-employed.


Non-fatal accidents

The following table shows numbers, incidences, and trends of non-fatal accidents in the NACE sub-sectors. For comparison reasons only sub-sectors and no main sectors are presented.

Table 4: Non-fatal accidents EU-27 (and in comparison with Spain, Ireland, Romania, and Iceland) (year, number and incidence) (number of lost days not specified)

2005 2008 2009 2011 2012 Change

[%]

Position
Incidence Number**

Incidence*

Number

Incidence

Number

Incidence

Number

Incidence

All sectors (NACE section level) 3,975,600

1,845.94

3,156,456

1,552.54

-20.6

-15.9

Waste collection, treatment and disposal (NACE sub-section E38) 41937 42649

4358.27

38265

3768.53

-10.3

-13,5

22

1

Air transport (NACE sub-section H51) 13,455 12493

3165.91

13914

3577.01

+11.4

+13.0

42

2

Manufacture of fabricated metal products (except machinery and equipment) (NACE sub-section C25) 186,411 127,754

3463.19

121,349

3324.33

-5.0

-4.0

8

7

Construction – Civil engineering (NACE sub-section F42) 65,534 50,594

3049.58

47,913

2937.81

-5.3

-3.7

20

9

Fishing (NACE 1.1 code B***) EU15, accidents with more than 3 days of absence -

7250

Fishing and aquaculture (NACE sub-section A03) 5451 4679

2993.6

4430

2743.78

-5.3

-8.3

63

11

Other mining and quarrying

(NACE section B08)

8119 7182

3515.79

6048

2673.44

-15.8

-23.9

55

12

Spain, Fishing and aquaculture (NACE sub-sector B05) 2754 2488

0**

2448

0**

-1.6

./.

34

Last

Ireland (B05) 24 29

0**

79

0**

+127.4 33

Last

Romania (B05) 1

0**

2

0**

+100.0

0

71

Last

Iceland (B05) 49

0**

./.

./.

9

Last


(*) Cases per 100,000 workers (**) May carry an error because all NACE sub-categories are indicated as 0 (***) Fishing, operation of fish hatcheries and fish farms; service activities incidental to fishing

Source: Compiled by the author, based on Eurostat[12] and EC study[6]

While the fishing and aquaculture subsector has many fatal accidents in proportion to its employment figures, in terms of non-fatal accidents it ranks in 11th place, but still far above the average and similar to construction and mining subsectors.


Gender

The following table shows the difference in non-fatal accidents in the sector, according to gender.

Table 5: Non-fatal accidents in the fishing and aquaculture sub- sector by gender


Industrial sector Non-fatal accidents per 100,000 workers, (incidence rate) Change

[ % ]

2011 2012


Fishing and aquaculture (NACE sub-section A03) 2993.6 2743.8 -8.3
Males

Females

3269.6

1505.0

2992.1

1225.3

-8.5

-18.6

Source: Compiled by the author based on Eurostat[13]

The comparatively low incidence rate among females can probably be attributed to women working in lower risk workplaces such as aquaculture and offices as compared to fishing vessels.

Company size

The following table shows the relationship between non-fatal accidents in the sector and the company size.

Table 6: Breakdown of non-fatal accidents (more than 3 days lost) in the agriculture, forestry and fishing sector (NACE code A), according to company size (EU27) (number of accidents)


Total Zero (self-employed) From 1 to 9 workers From 10 to 49 workers From 50 to 249 workers From 250 to 499 workers 500 workers or more Unkown
2008 127,649 4158 12,861 10,459 10,298 1,795 2,890 85,188
2010 162,619 4156 13,471 10,447 7,424 2,247 3,217 121,656
2012 150,317 7095 11,814 10,312 8,326 1,863 3,150 107,757

Source: Eurostat[14]

The high figures in the category “Unknown” indicate a similarly high degree of uncertainty of this table. However, it seems likely that the highest numbers of non-fatal accidents with more than 3 days of absence can be observed in micro enterprises and enterprises with up to 250 workers.


Evaluation regarding accidents

The sector has made great progress in reducing the number and incidence rate of accidents. It has also benefited from the continuous trend to larger and safer ships. However, considering the high above average incidence rates, much still has to be done.

Occupational health

Whereas accident statistics show a downward trend, there was a clear increase from 1999 to 2007 in the proportion of people with work-related health problems, according to the LFS (Labour Force Survey) ad hoc modules[6] (see the following table).

Table 7: Reported work-related health problems by sector


1999

Standardised prevalence* rate (per 100,000 workers) of work-related health problems

1999

Prevalence rate in %

2007

Persons reporting one or more work-related health problems in the past 12 months [%]

Change

[%]

Position
Total - all NACE1.1 activities 5,372 5.37 12.8 138.36 9
Agriculture, hunting and forestry 4,751 4.75 16.5 247.37 1
Fishing 3,680 3.68 13.6 269.57 5
Mining and quarrying 3,790 3.79 13.9 266.75 4
Manufacturing 4,627 4.63 11.8 154.86 11
Electricity, gas and water supply 3,946 3.95 11.3 186.08 14
Construction 5,005 5.01 12.3 145.51 10
Wholesale and retail trade; repair of motor vehicles, motorcycles and personal and household goods 4,493 4.49 11.2 149.44 16
Hotels and restaurants 3,689 3.69 10.3 179.13 17


Transport, storage and communication 5,521 5.52 13.2 139.13 8


Financial intermediation 3,775 3.78 11.3 198.94 15
Real estate, renting and business activities 5,028 5.03 11.7 132.60 13
Public administration and defence; compulsory social security 5,008 5.01 13.8 175.45 6
Education 6,908 6.91 13.5 95.37 7
Health and social work 8,638 8.64 16.1 86.34 2
Other community, social and personal service activities 5,640 5.64 11.8 109.22 12
Activities of households 2,908 2.91 14.4 394.85 3
Extra-territorial organizations and bodies 4,558 4.56 7.3 60.09 18

(*) Prevalence describes the proportion of a studied group found to have a condition/disease as compared to the number of people studied. This is contrasted with incidence, which is a measure of new cases arising over a given period.

Source: Established by the author, based on Eurostat[15] [16]

The number of workers reporting a work-related health problem in the fisheries sector more than doubled between 1999 and 2007. However, it has to be noted that the statistical basis of the figures is different. Comparing the positions of the sectors (last column in table 7), fisheries keeps a position at the top.

Health problems in the fishing sector (as reported in 1999) are shown in the following table:

Table 8: Types of health problem reported in the EU fishing sector (NACE revision 1)


1999

Standardised prevalence rate

Musculo-skeletal disorders 2,120
Pulmonary disorders Not available
Stress, depression, anxiety Not available
Other not elsewhere mentioned 1,305
Total 3,680

Source: Compiled by the author, based on Eurostat[17]

According to an older review conducted by Rafnsson ship doctors in the sector most frequently reported dental conditions, gastro-intestinal illness, musculoskeletal conditions, psychiatric/neurological conditions, respiratory conditions, cardiological conditions and dermatological complaints. [18]

Rafnsson discusses the following items in more detail[18]:

Occupational asthma

This is frequently found among workers in the fish industry and it is associated with several types of fish, but most commonly it is related to exposure to crustaceans and molluscs—for example, shrimp, crabs, shellfish and so on. The processing of fishmeal is also often related to asthma, as are similar processes, such as grinding shells (shrimp shells in particular).

Hearing loss

The machine room personnel on the vessels are at extreme risk.

Suicide

High death rates because of suicide have been reported. There is also an excess of deaths in the category where the doctors were not able to decide whether the injury was accidental or self- inflicted. Rafnsson identified a widespread belief that suicides in general are underreported, and this is rumoured to be even greater in the fishing industry. Psychiatric literature gives descriptions of calenture, a behavioural phenomenon where the predominant symptom is an irresistible impulse for sailors to jump into the sea from their vessels.

Fatal poisoning and asphyxia

Fatal poisoning occurs in incidents of fire on board fishing vessels, and is related to inhalation of toxic smoke. There are also reports of fatal and non-fatal intoxication resulting from the leak of refrigerants or the use of chemicals for preserving shrimp or fish, and from toxic gases from the anaerobic decay of organic material in unventilated holds. The refrigerants concerned range from the highly toxic methyl chloride to ammonia. Some deaths have been attributed to exposure to sulphur dioxide in confined spaces, which is reminiscent of the incidents of silo-filler’s disease, where there is exposure to nitrogen oxides. Research has similarly shown that there are mixtures of toxic gases (i.e., carbon dioxide, ammonia, hydrogen sulphide and carbon monoxide), along with low partial pressure of oxygen in holds on board ship and on shore, which have resulted in casualties, both fatal and non-fatal, often related to industrial fish such as herring and capelin. In commercial fishing, there are some reports of intoxication when landing fish that have been related to trimethylamine and endotoxins causing symptoms resembling influenza, which may, however, lead to death. Attempts could be made to reduce these risks through improved education and alterations to equipment.

Skin diseases

Skin diseases affecting hands are common. These may be related to contact with fish proteins or to the use of rubber gloves. If gloves are not used, the hands are constantly wet and some workers may become sensitized. Thus most of the skin diseases are contact eczema, either allergic or non-allergic, and the conditions are often constantly present. Boils and abscesses are recurrent problems also affecting hands and fingers.

Mortality

Some studies, although not all, show low mortality from all causes among fishermen as compared to the general male population. This phenomenon of low mortality in a group of workers is called the “healthy worker effect”, referring to the consistent tendency for actively employed people to have more favourable mortality experience than the population at large. However, due to high mortality from accidents at sea, the results from many mortality studies on fishermen show high death rates for all causes. The mortality from ischemic heart diseases is either elevated or decreased in studies on fishermen. Mortality from cerebrovascular diseases and respiratory diseases is average among fishermen.

Unknown causes

Mortality from unknown causes is higher among fishermen than other men in several studies. Unknown causes are special numbers in the International Classification of Diseases used when the doctor who issues the death certificate is not able to state any specific disease or injury as the cause of death. Sometimes deaths registered under the category of unknown causes are due to accidents in which the body was never found, and are most likely water transport accidents or suicides when the death occurs at sea. In any case an excess of deaths from unknown causes can be an indication, not only of a dangerous job, but also of a dangerous lifestyle.

Cancer

In 2003, Bofetta and colleagues noted that only a limited number of clearly defined individual factors are established occupational carcinogens. However, there is considerable evidence of the increased risks associated with particular industries and occupations, although often no specific agents can be identified as aetiological factors. This concerns also fishers, who have an increased risk of skin- and lip-cancer, whereby the suspected agent is the ultraviolet radiation from the sun.[19][20] According to Rafnsson also smoking may play a role.[18]

Recognized occupational diseases

A 2004 publication by Eurostat showed that in 2001 the fishing sector had a low number of recognized occupational diseases (EU-12 extrapolated to EU-15), accounting for 41 cases. Manufacturing had the largest figure amounting to 20,266 cases.[21]

Evaluation regarding occupational health

The sector has made progress in reducing accidents, although incidences remain on a high level. However, work-related diseases are still increasing.


Legal requirements

International efforts

In 2007 the International Labour Organization (ILO) adopted the “Work in Fishing Convention” (No. 188)[1], which establishes minimum working and living standards that fishers should expect and that fishing vessel owners should follow. The convention will put in place a system of flag and port State control inspection of working and living conditions on fishing vessels. According to the ILO, this is an essential element of establishing decent working and living conditions for fishers, including migrant fishers, and will also contribute to addressing other issues such as IUU (illegal, unreported and unregulated) fishing, forced labour and human trafficking, and child labour.[22]

However until 2015 the Convention has been ratified by very few countries only [23] and in 2013 a Global Dialogue Forum in Geneva[22] identified unique challenges from small scale fisheries and the need for governments to align fisheries policies with policies on safety at sea and health and safety on board fishing vessels. Drawing points of concensus the Forum recommended to benefit from lessons learned from the process of ratification of the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has developed, in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture organization (FAO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO), a number of non-mandatory instruments. These include the FAO/ILO/IMO Document for Guidance on Fishermen's Training and Certification and the revised Code of Safety for Fishermen and Fishing Vessels, 2005, and the Voluntary Guidelines for the Design, Construction and Equipment of Small Fishing Vessels, 2005. [24] These documents concern seaworthiness of the vessels, precautions against falling overboard, etc. Also education, qualification and training play an important role.

Fishing vessels at Heikendorf, Germany

In 2012 the social partners in the European sea-fisheries sectors signed an agreement concerning the implementation of the ILO Work in fishing Convention (188).[25] Among others the agreement sets out minimum age, compulsory medical examinations and certificates for fishermen. It deals with sufficient and qualified manning and specifies the limits on hours of work and rest.

However the agreement will not enter into force until the date when the Convention enters into force; but this needs the ratifications of ten Member States of the ILO, eight of which are coastal States. So far the instrument has been ratified by: Argentina (2011), Bosnia and Herzegovina (2010), Congo (2014), Marocco (2013) and South Africa (2013).[23]

European level

At EU level the Directive 1989/391/EEC - the “framework directive” - is the 'basic law' on occupational safety and health in the EU. Under this general directive, which is fully applicable in the fisheries sector, several so-called ‘daughter directives’ were adopted, some of which address the situation in specific sectors.

Directive 93/103/EC of 23 November 1993 concerning the minimum safety and health requirements for work on board fishing vessels sets the standards in the sector. [2] The directive is applicable to bigger vessels, namely new fishing vessels as per November 1995 (length between perpendiculars of 15 metres or over) and existing fishing vessels (length between perpendiculars of 18 metres or over). The Member States have to transpose the directive into their national legislative systems. Following the directive they have to ensure that:

  • vessels are used without endangering the safety and health of workers;
  • occurrences at sea that affect or could affect the safety or health of workers are described in a report that should be forwarded to the relevant competent authorities and are recorded in the ship’s log or similar document;
  • vessels are subject to regular checks by authorities.
  • new and existing fishing vessels comply with the minimum health and safety requirements laid down in the Annexes.
  • vessels and their fittings and equipment are technically maintained and that defects found are rectified as quickly as possible;
  • vessels and all fittings and equipment are cleaned regularly to maintain an appropriate level of hygiene;
  • an adequate quantity of suitable emergency and survival equipment is available and in good working order;
  • the minimum safety and health requirements concerning life-saving and survival equipment given in Annex III are observed;
  • the personal protective equipment specifications given in Annex IV are observed;
  • the skipper is supplied with the means needed to enable him to fulfil the obligations
  • workers and their representatives are informed of all measures to be taken regarding safety and health on board vessels and this information must be comprehensible to the workers concerned.
  • workers are given suitable training on safety and health on board vessels and on accident prevention. The training must cover fire fighting, the use of life-saving and survival equipment, the use of fishing gear and hauling equipment as well as the use of signs and hand signals. Moreover, any person likely to command a vessel must be given detailed training.

Another important European directive was established in 1992 and concerns the medical treatment onboard vessels, whereby fishing vessels are specifically addressed.[26] The requirements for medical supplies are listed and it is required that every vessel with a crew of 100 or more workers, which is engaged on an international voyage of more than three days has to have a doctor on board.


Evaluation

The report COM (2009) 599 on the implementation of Directives 92/29/EEC (medical treatment on board vessels) and 93/103/EC (fishing vessels) highlighted that while there have been improvements in safety requirements and the safety training of crews on board fishing vessels, the impact of the fishing vessels directive has been limited. Firstly, because it applies only to larger vessels and also because little attention has been paid to working conditions that might increase the risk of occupational diseases and unhealthy lifestyles. Another problem is the limited number of labour inspectors who actually go on board vessels. It also highlighted that a non-binding EU guide for vessels under 15 m in length could help to address the extremely high rate of accidents in the fishing sector and the fact that many vessels fall outside the scope of the fishing vessel directive.[27]

European guideline

A draft of the proposed Guide for Risk Prevention in Small Fishing Vessels was produced by Labour Asociados, SSL, Spain. In 2011 other institutions were asked to participate in evaluating the draft.[28] Unfortunately the guide has not been published so far (2015). It seems that the above mentioned social partners agreement[29] is seen as a substitute for the guide.


Hazards and risks

Workers in this sector often have to carry out various physically demanding tasks under time pressure and in difficult weather conditions while being far away from the shore. Globalisation and overfishing have led to additional issues, such as longer journeys, tighter margins [34], culture and language problems, attacks by pirates. The following paragraphs describe the most important hazards and risks.

Vessels

Depending on the area of operation the inappropriate construction of a fishing vessel regarding seaworthiness, strength, watertightness and stability can lead to capsizing and sinking of the ship. The same can be true for inappropriate maintenance of the ship. This applies as well to the engines, machines, equipment and appliances needed for the safe operation of the ship. E.g. breaking ropes may cause severe or even fatal accidents.

Falls overboard are the cause of many fatal accidents on small fishing vessels. Work spaces have to allow the safe conduction of the work processes.

Work environment

There is usually a large variety of working environments and depending on the length of a journey, it may not always be possible to avoid heavy weather. Being at sea means that, in many cases, the consequence of an accident is more severe than if it happened on land.

Loud machinery noise and vibration are common on board fishing vessels. Working in the cold or under the beating sun for too long periods may lead to health problems that may even include cancer. The risk of skin and eye damage due to sun exposure is greater at sea than on land because of the unhindered reflection of the sunlight.

Fishing gear

The shooting or hauling of fishing nets is a particularly high-risk task, with workers drowning or suffering injury after being struck by or entangled by fishing tackle. A worker being dragged into a winch or similar equipment, falls and being struck by moving objects (such as trawl equipment) are very common fatal and non-fatal accidents. Snagging of gear may lead to capsize of a vessel. Manual handling of heavy loads can lead to musculoskeletal problems.

Hazardous substances

Fishers and crew may have to deal with poisonous fish or other seafood, which may lead not only to acute effects but also to chronic health problems, such as allergies and asthma. Other problematic substances include preservatives, carbon monoxide, refrigerants, diesel motor emissions (DME), cleaning agents, solvents, paints, wood preservatives, glues, oils, greases etc. In order to cope with the long periods away from land, some workers may resort to alcohol, drugs and smoking.

Qualification and training

Insufficient qualification and training of the captain and of the crew may have severe consequences: collisions, groundings, rope breaking, etc.

Work organisation

Work schedules, shifts, extended working hours, time for resting, etc. that do not sufficiently consider the physical and psychosocial state of the workers may lead to physical and mental exhaustion, diminished reaction, alertness and concentration thus causing accidents and ill health.

Globalisation

Globalisation has increased overfishing and has compelled ships owners because of tighter margins, to make longer journeys, employ workers from other cultures with different languages, and run a greater risk to be attacked by pirates.


Prevention and control measures

After the hazards have been identified, the next step is to determine who will be exposed to these hazards and to what extent. This will then lead to the identification of the necessary prevention and control measures, including reassessing the effectiveness of existing measures. The selection of measures has to follow a certain hierarchy to ensure that the most effective measures (e.g. avoidance and substitution) are considered first, and the least effective (e.g. personal protective equipment) are seen as the last resort. It is required to involve the workers into this risk assessment process, as they have sound knowledge about the conditions and risks at their own workplaces and this will increase their motivation to apply the developed measures.[30]

The avoidance of risks can include: avoiding heavy weather by establishing a related policy and making use of weather forecasts, etc. (see also: Water transport – OSH issues)

Substitution of hazardous chemicals or processes by less hazardous ones include: the use of substitution databases such as SUBSPORT[31], water based paints, aqueous cleaning processes, TIG welding, etc.

The application of engineering controls include: the use of suitable ships for the intended fishing area and weather conditions, provisions against falling overboard, enclosures for machines, local exhausts, measures to minimize noise and vibration, safe fishing gear, safe maintenance [32] including pre-sailing checks, etc.

The application of organisational controls includes: the sufficient manning of ships, the responsible establishment of work schedules giving enough time for sufficient rest periods (see e.g. the social partners agreement[25]), controls for the storage and safe handling of raw materials, products, by-products and waste, restricted access to specific areas for experienced workers only, closure of watertight doors when not in use, procedures in place for recovering fouled gear[30], application of health monitoring, etc.

The use of personal protection equipment (PPE) when prevention and control measures do not suffice, can include high visibility clothing which protects against coldness, sunscreen against the UV radiation, life jackets, radio beacons, hearing protectors, etc.

Training and instruction should accompany all types of measures, to ensure that workers know the methods and processes, and practice them. Of special importance are the knowledge of life-saving appliances, fire prevention and fire fighting, first-aid equipment and safety drills.

Risk assessment tools

EU-OSHA began in 2009 to develop a web application (tools generator) to create interactive risk assessment tools ( OiRA tools). These OiRA tools help micro and small organisations to put in place a risk assessment process – starting with the identification and evaluation of workplace risks, through decision making on preventive actions and the taking of action, to monitoring and reporting. Social partners of the fisheries sector plan to develop their own OiRA tool for the sector on European level. For the application on national level the tool will have to be transformed and adapted to the Member states’ conditions.

The tool will allow small fishing companies and self-employed fishers to do their legally required risk assessment in a time effective manner and at the same time find a comprehensive inventory of up-to-date prevention and control measures, whereby they can select the most appropriate for their businesses.[33]


Outlook

Although progress can be seen in reducing occupational accidents the incidences of fatal and non-fatal accidents remain on a high level. The occupational health in the sector is still worsening. The effects of globalisation are being addressed but have not yet (2015) led to international conventions. The agreement of the European social partners could prove to be an example of how to accelerate the slow process, while the development of the OiRA tool may improve the access of employers and workers to up-to-date prevention and control measures.


References

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Links for further reading

EU-OSHA - European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, Risk assessment for small fishing vessels, Factsheet 38, 2003. Available at: [34]

EU-OSHA - European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, Safe maintenance of fishing vessels, E-fact 55, 2011. Available at: [35]

CDC - USA Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, List of Journal Articles on Occupational Safety in the Fishing Industry 1954-2012. Retrieved 22 February 2015, from: [36]

ILO - International Labour Organization (Ed.), Encyclopaedia of Occupational Health and Safety, ILO, Geneve, 2003. Available at: [37]