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Occupational mortality in British commercial fishing, 1976–95
  1. S E Roberts
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr S E Roberts
 Unit of Health-Care Epidemiology, Department of Public Health, University of Oxford, Old Road, Oxford OX3 7LF, UK;


Aims: To establish the causes and circumstances of all deaths occurring at work or related to work among fishermen in British commercial fishing between 1976 and 1995.

Methods: A retrospective study, based on official mortality files, with a population of 440 355 fishermen-years at risk.

Results: Of 616 deaths in British fishing, 454 (74%) were due to accidents at work, and 394 (87%) of these fishermen drowned. A total of 270 accidents were caused by casualties to vessels and 184 by personal accidents. There was no significant decline in the fatal accident rate, 103.1 per 100 000 fishermen-years, between 1976 and 1995. The fatal accident rate was 52.4 times higher (95% CI 42.9 to 63.8) than for all workers in Great Britain during the same period, and this relative risk increased through the 1980s up to 76.6 during 1991–95. Relative risks with the construction (12.3) and manufacturing (46.0) industries were higher than 5 and 20 respectively, during 1959–68. Trawlers foundering in adverse weather was the most frequent cause of mortality from casualties to vessels (115 deaths), and 82 of 145 personal accidents at sea arose during operations involving trawling nets.

Conclusions: When compared with shore based industries, fishing remains at least as hazardous as before. Prevention should be aimed, most importantly, at the unnecessary operation of small vessels and trawling net manoeuvres in hazardous weather and sea conditions. Other measures should focus on preventing falls overboard, reducing fatigue, a more widespread use of personal flotation devices, and improvements in weather forecast evaluation.

  • commercial fishing
  • fatal accidents
  • occupational hazards
  • casualties to vessels
  • drowning
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