Research Shows Gaps in Aquaculture Industry Safety, Health

"Aquaculture occupational health and safety is frequently marginalized or lost by government, industry, and sometimes labor organizations," Watterson said.

Workers in the aquaculture industry—numbering an estimated 18 million—regularly work in "highly hazardous" conditions with high risk of workplace injury and disease, according to new research led by the University of Stirling. The research findings were presented during the International Fishers Safety and Health Conference on June 12 by project coordinator Professor Andrew Watterson of the Occupational and Environmental Health Research Group at Stirling.

"Aquaculture occupational health and safety is frequently marginalized or lost by government, industry, and sometimes labor organizations," Watterson said. "This contrasts with the wider importance and funding given to production, cost, food safety, sustainability, and wider environmental issues within the sector."

The project examined workplace issues in the primary aquaculture supply chain, in marine and freshwater locations. The report discusses the hazards of stock-holding units such as ponds, racks, and cages, as well as the hazards of feeding, harvesting, processing, and transport of produce. It also addressed workplace injuries involving machinery, tools, boats, vehicles, drowning, falls, electrocution, and bites.

Researchers found that the toll—human, social, and economic—of poor health and safety in the industry is either known to be or likely to be "considerable" for workers, through both direct and indirect factors, including occupational injuries and illnesses, low wages, long hours, job insecurity, and poor welfare and social security.

However, the report added that "many risks remain either neglected or unaddressed" due to gaps in knowledge and limited independent analysis of prevention and risk reduction strategies.

"Our research found many gaps in our global knowledge of the working conditions of the world's 18 million aquaculture workers, the hazards they face, the injuries and diseases they suffer, and the risk management systems used to protect them," Watterson said.

Despite this, researchers found that practical solutions exist to remove or reduce many industry risks. For example, codes on occupational health, human rights, and "decent work" programs from the International Labour Organization and Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations could be effective in addressing and changing weak standards.

"These programs, if linked to relevant ministries – such as labor, health and social security – may be able to contribute to progress," Watterson said.

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