NIOSH Report Assesses Hazards Facing Workers in the Distant Water Tuna Fleet

Fatal and non-fatal injuries increased in 2010-2012 as the fleet's size rose from 14 vessels in 2006 to 39 vessels in 2012.

NIOSH has released a new report that it described as the first baseline assessment of the hazards faced by workers in the Distant Water Tuna Fleet. Compared with most other U.S. fishing fleets, workers in this fleet are at high risk of suffering a fatal injury, according to the report, which shows that falls overboard are the leading cause of death, followed by helicopter crashes, drownings when vessels capsize, and cable failure. It states that the work-related mortality rate in the fleet is 226 deaths per 100,000 full-time equivalent positions during 2006-2012 -- up from a rate of 111 per 100,000 FTEs during 2006-2009.

Non-fatal injuries also have increased as the fleet's size mushroomed from 14 ships in 2006 to 39 in 2012, according to NIOSH, which conducted the evaluation and made recommendations for injury and fatality prevention at the request of the U.S. Coast Guard.

A map included in the brief report shows the locations of fatal and non-fatal events during the 2006-2012 period. They are concentrated in the Pacific Ocean northeast of Australia, making rescue and medical response challenging, according to the report.

NIOSH's recommendations include: setting vessel-specific policies for the use of personal flotation devices and appropriate footwear when working on the vessels, conducting monthly emergency drills for falls overboard, completing and documenting periodic crane, mast, and boom rigging and gear inspections, following proper procedures when entering confined spaces, and ensuring communication between ships officers and crew during emergencies.

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