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The Most Dangerous Jobs in America: Commercial Fishing Still Tops the List


No matter how the statistics are figured, commercial fishing is named in every recent study as the most dangerous job in America. This is probably no surprise to the Gulf Coast men and women who earn their livings in this industry. Fishermen deal with rough weather, dangerous working conditions, strenuous work, and long working hours every day on the job.

The fatality rate for fishermen from 1992-2008 was 128 per 100,000 workers, compared with four per 100,000 among all American workers. Of these fatalities, over 95% were male and the average age was 41. It is no wonder that the television series, Deadliest Catch, is a hit with viewers who like the reality of danger.

Commercial Fishing Accident Statistics

Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that commercial fishing accidents are not uncommon.

  • More than 500 commercial fishermen died in the U.S. while working offshore from 2000-2010.
  • 51% of commercial fisherman fatalities were due to a vessel disaster.
  • 170 of the fatalities were due to a fisherman falling overboard.
  • 10% of commercial fisherman casualties onboard were injuries due to fishing or boating equipment.
  • 57% of the deadly accidents on commercial fishing boats were not witnessed by other crew members.
  • Of those injured or killed from falling overboard, none were reported as wearing a personal floatation device.
  • Severe weather conditions accounted for 61% of fatalities onboard commercial fishing vessels.

Risks to commercial fishermen:

  • Weather – sudden gales, storms and fog can cause capsizing, grounding, collisions and loss of direction.
  • Dangers from the fishing operation –Vessel gear may snag on a fastener, workers may get caught in nets or ropes and swept overboard.  Fishing gear can cause accidents and injuries.
  • Marine animals – various fish and other marine animals can bite, sting and otherwise cause injury.
  • Communication problems – Loss of radio contact can prevent help from coming when needed.
  • Economic hardship – Fishermen often take risks to increase their catch and payout.
  • Loss of power
  • Fire
  • Inadequate boat construction standards or unsuitable boats
  • Inadequate vessel maintenance
  • Lack of safety training or gear

Most fishing fatalities occurred during the above time period as a result of:

  • Vessel disaster (%52) caused by flooding, vessel instability, being struck by a large wave and severe weather conditions
  • Falling Overboard (31%) caused by trips or slips, losing balance or gear entanglement.
  • Onboard Injury (10%)
  • Diving or Onshore Injury (7%)

And where are the most dangerous places to fish? Here are the regions and the percentage of fatalities in each:

  • East Coast, 33%
  • Alaska, 26%
  • Gulf of Mexico, 23%
  • West Coast, 16%

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) stresses that fishermen should take the following precautions on the job:

  • Take a safety class every five years.
  • Wear a comfortable personal flotation device (PFD) on deck at all times.
  • Practice monthly drills including flooding, fire, man overboard and abandon ship.
  • Watch weather forecasts carefully.
  • Perform regular inspections of the hull, doors, hatches, and high water alarms.
  • Use a man overboard alarm system.
  • Test immersion suits used in cold water for leaks.

In addition, NIOSH says that all vessel owners and operators should:

  • Have a policy for PFD use.
  • Require monthly drills for the procedures listed above.
  • Install a man overboard alarm system and a man overboard retrieval device.
  • Make sure all hydraulic deck machinery is equipped with an emergency stop.
  • Make sure all crewmembers are up to date on safety training.

If you or a loved one has had a commercial fishing injury and you believe your employer or co-worker was at fault, you have strong protection in the Jones Act. Let us help you. The Young Firm in New Orleans concentrates in Jones Act and maritime cases and will fight aggressively for your rights. Give us a call today toll free at (866) 715-3664 or fill out the form on this page for a free consultation.



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