Stephen Roberts from the University of Oxford, UK, investigated the most hazardous of all occupations in Great Britain. The causes of all deaths in British merchant seafaring and trawler fishing-traditionally the two most dangerous occupations-were assessed between 1976 and 1995 and compared with official death statistics for other occupations.
Fishermen were over 50 times more likely, and seafarers were over 25 times more likely, to have a fatal accident at work than other British workers. Both occupations were much more hazardous than construction, manufacturing, and other industrial jobs.
Stephen Roberts comments: "These results show that trawler fishing and merchant seafaring are still the two most dangerous occupations in Britain. Trawler fishermen have to contend with unique occupational and weather-related hazards; these, together with economic pressures, often make this industry unreceptive to the introduction of safety measures. Prevention efforts should be directed, most importantly, towards reduction of hazardous working practices in trawler fishing. In particular, they should be aimed at the unnecessary operation of small trawlers and trawling net manoeuvres in hazardous weather and sea conditions."
In an accompanying Commentary (p 503), George Conway from the University of Alaska, Anchorage, USA, states how organisations in developed countries are working to implement safety procedures to minimise the risks for people working at sea. He concludes: "However, most of the world's estimated 36 million fishermen reside in developing nations, and have hardly been touched by any of these developments, often going to sea in small, marginal craft with little or no safety equipment and limited access to reliable weather predictions...Real progress in the developed nations' efforts to prevent fishing fatalities are just beginning. Much more work will be needed to make this occupation acceptably safe. Even more effort will be needed to spread the full benefits of new technology to the artisanal and subsistence fishermen and boats so numerous in maritime developing nations. These benefits, which include access to satellite weather prediction and simple, inexpensive measures such as flotation vests, and amendments to improve vessel buoyancy, are all within reach, provided there is sufficient international commitment."
Dr Stephen Roberts, Unit of Health-Care Epidemiology, Department of Public Health, University of Oxford,
Old Road, Oxford, OX3 7LF, UK;
Dr G Conway, CDC/NIOSH Alaska Field Station,
4230 University Drive, Suite 310, Anchorage, AK 99508, USA;