Thursday, September 22, 2016

Work Process Classification System Identifies Hazardous Fishing Tasks by Vessel Gear Type

Crew members on a Bering Sea crab vessel land a pot of Opilio crab. Many nonfatal injuries occur when launching and retrieving the gear from a platform that is rolling with the seas and is often covered in water or ice. Photo courtesy of Mike Fourtner.
Seafood is part of a healthy diet, but for the fishermen who harvest the catch work presents many hazards. In fact, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the United States fishing industry is one of the most dangerous in the country, with a fatality rate 35 times higher than the national average. This number, however, does not account for nonfatal injuries. Nonfatal injuries constitute the majority of all occupational injuries and can result in lowered productivity, lost wages, lowered quality of life, and disability.

Recognizing that the first step to preventing injuries is to identify their cause, Oregon State University (OSU) and NIOSH researchers recently confirmed the ability of a Work Process Classification System (WPCS) to associate specific job tasks with nonfatal injuries onboard Alaskan commercial fishing vessels. The WPCS is a coding system that was originally developed for describing patterns of injuries onboard Danish commercial fishing vessels. NIOSH and OSU researchers have modified the WPCS to describe the work processes and injury events associated with U. S. fleets. 

Worldwide, each fleet—a group of vessels fishing for the same species with the same type of gear in the same area—experiences unique hazards due to differences between vessels, gear types, and specifically the work tasks on deck and below deck.

Based on United States Coast Guard investigative reports, the researchers identified 136 nonfatal, traumatic injuries to workers on Alaskan fishing vessels from 2006 to 2010. The researchers reviewed narrative descriptions of the injury circumstances and used the WPCS to categorize fishermen’s job tasks at the time of the injury. Most injuries were reported on vessels using one of four gear types and the researchers identified hazardous tasks onboard each of these, with the most general categories of tasks and their associated number of nonfatal injuries indicated in Table 1.

Table I. Hazardous job tasks by Fishing Vessel Gear Type in Alaska, 2006–2010

Vessels with Number of nonfatal injuries Hazardous tasks associated with injuries
Trawl Gear (fishing nets dragged behind the vessel) 69 Handling frozen fish
Processing the catch.
Traffic onboard (walking, climbing ladders, etc.)
Pot and Trap Gear (cages lowered into the water to catch fish and shellfish) 19 Handling the gear
Shooting/setting the gear
Hauling the gear.
Longline Gear (long fishing lines with periodic lines with hooks branching off) 15 Traffic onboard (walking, climbing ladders, etc.)
Hauling the gear
No Gear (floating fish processing factories or tenders) 17 Processing the catch
Other work with the catch
Handling frozen fish

This task- and vessel-specific information is essential for injury prevention efforts because it enables occupational safety and health specialists to target the hazards associated with the most frequent and serious injuries. The next steps, according to the researchers, are to design long-term studies in different geographical areas and onboard different types of vessels, as well as to calculate the amount of time that workers spend on tasks, which will allow for risk determination. 

Finally, it is important to improve the reporting of nonfatal injuries, particularly on smaller commercial fishing vessels. NIOSH works with industry to conduct safety research and seeks commercial fishermen’s input for determining practical, effective injury prevention strategies.

More information is available: