The movie, "The Perfect Storm," that opened in movie theaters this past weekend, dramatizes journalist Sebastian Junger''s true account of the Andrea Gail, a commercial fishing vessel lost at sea with all hands in the "storm of the century" in 1991.
As the movie vividly illustrates, commercial fishing is an arduous and dangerous occupation. However, with planning and careful working procedures, injuries can often be prevented, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
"Commercial fisherman need not be trapped in a ''Perfect Storm'' to be in danger of death or serious injury on the job," said NIOSH Director Linda Rosentsock. "Hazards are prevalent in this challenging industry. Fortunately, we can anticipate dangers and help keep these dedicated individuals safe and sound."
Commercial fisherman are 30 times more likely to die on the job than the average American worker, according to NIOSH statistics.
In an instant, a commercial fisherman may be at risk of drowning if a storm or a wave capsizes his boat or sweeps him over the side, if he slips overboard from a wet or icy deck, or if he is caught in a line and pulled into the water.
Avoiding harsh weather conditions, ensuring adequate vessel stability and wearing a personal flotation device are ways to mitigate these hazards, said NIOSH.
The agency recommends that the following safety factors be reviewed before a vessel goes out to sea:
- Make sure emergency drills have been conducted.
- Schedule work to minimize fatigue.
- Ensure all workers are wearing a personal flotation device while on deck.
- Emergency equipment should be available and properly maintained.
- Be sure bilge pumps are in working order, and damage control kits with plugs, wedges and other components are available.
- Complete a vessel safety inspection.
- Check weather forecasts for the likelihood of storms or other potentially hazardous conditions.
NIOSH and the Harvard School of Public Health, in collaboration with the Coast Guard, will hold the International Fishing Industry Safety and Health (IFISH) Conference on Oct. 25-25, in Woods Hole, Mass.
The conference will be an international forum to encourage action to prevent injury in the fishing industry.
Further information on the conference is available on the Web at www.hsph.harvard.edu/IFISH.
by Virginia Sutcliffe