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Traumatic work related mortality among seafarers employed in British merchant shipping, 1976–2002
  1. S E Roberts1,
  2. P B Marlow2
  1. 1Unit of Health-Care Epidemiology, Department of Public Health, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
  2. 2Cardiff Business School, Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr S 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 traumatic work related deaths among seafarers who were employed in British merchant shipping from 1976 to 2002, and to assess whether seafaring is still a hazardous occupation as well as a high risk occupation for suicide.

Methods: A longitudinal study of occupational mortality, based on official mortality files, with a population of 1 136 427 seafarer-years at risk.

Results: Of 835 traumatic work related deaths, 564 were caused by accidents, 55 by suicide, 17 by homicide, and 14 by drug or alcohol poisoning. The circumstances in which the other 185 deaths occurred, including 178 seafarers who disappeared at sea or were found drowned, were undetermined. The mortality rate for 530 fatal accidents that occurred at the workplace from 1976 to 2002, 46.6 per 100 000 seafarer-years, was 27.8 times higher than in the general workforce in Great Britain during the same time period. The fatal accident rate declined sharply since the 1970s, but the relative risk of a fatal accident was 16.0 in 1996–2002. There was no reduction in the suicide rate, which was comparable to that in most high risk occupations in Britain, from 1976 to 1995; but a decline since 1995.

Conclusions: Although there was a large decline in the fatal accident rate in British shipping, compared to the general workforce, seafaring has remained a hazardous occupation. Further prevention should focus on improvements in safety awareness among seafarers and shipping companies, reductions in hazardous working practices, and improvements in care for seafarers at risk of suicide.

  • fatal accidents
  • merchant shipping
  • mortality rates
  • seafarers
  • suicides

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  • Competing interests: none declared