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Hazards of deep-sea fishing
  1. R. S. F. Schilling
  1. aLondon School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine TUC Centenary Institute of Occupational Health


    Schilling, R. S. F. (1971). Brit. J. industr. Med., 28, 27-35. Hazards of deep-sea fishing. During the nineteenth century sailing smacks suffered heavy losses at sea. Their replacement by steam trawlers and motor vessels reduced casualties to both ships and men. The accident mortality of fishermen in England and Wales has been grossly underestimated by the Registrar General of Births and Deaths because all but a few deaths at sea are reported separately to the Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen and are not taken into account in calculating mortality rates. By including deaths at sea in the period 1959-63, fishermen's standardized mortality ratio for accidents is increased from 466 to 1 726. Between 1958 and 1967, 92 fishermen on British trawlers lost their lives as a result of casualties to vessels; and 116 from individual accidents, mostly by drowning. The importance of individual accidents is emphasized by the fact that in years when ther was no heavy loss of life from vessel casualties, fishermen's fatal accident rates were at least twice those of coal miners and more than 20 times the rate of men in manufacturing industries. Crews of distant-water vessels have higher fatal accident rates than crews of near- and middle-water vessels (2·3 against 1·8 per 1 000 man-years); for skippers and mates on distant-water vessels the rate is 3·2 per 1 000 man-years which is higher than the corresponding rate of 2·6 for deck-hands and almost double that for other crew members.

    In 47 out of 90 trawlers lost or serioulsy damaged, the cause of the casualty was attributable to negligent navigation. Fatigue due to excessively long hours of work may contribute to casualties to both vessels and individuals. The Committee of Inquiry into Trawler Safety set up by the British Government after the loss of three trawlers in 1968 made many recommendations for higher standards of design, construction, and stability of vessels for the deep-sea fleet and for a reduction in the hours of work for deck-hands. The Committee also recommended the supply of a support ship at sea offering special services such as weather forecasting, medical and technical aid, and the provision of occupational health services for fishermen in port.

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    • 1 The Ernestine Henry Lecture delivered at the Royal College of Physicians, London on 27 February 1970.