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NIOSH Alert: Request for Assistance in Preventing Drownings of Commercial Fishermen

CDC's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) periodically issues alerts on workplace hazards that have caused death, serious injury, or illness to workers. One such alert, Request for Assistance in Preventing Drownings of Commercial Fishermen (1), was recently published and is available to the public. *

This alert warns fishermen of the high risk of drowning if they work on commercial fishing vessel decks without wearing personal flotation devices (PFDs). The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) estimated that during 1982-1987, the annual occupational fatality rate for U.S. commercial fishermen was 47 deaths per 100,000 workers; the major cause of these deaths was drowning. According to information gathered by NIOSH's Alaska Activity, the occupational fatality rate for commercial fishermen in Alaska during 1991-1993 was 195 deaths per 100,000 workers -- nearly 30 times the average annual rate for all U.S. workers; 91% were drownings (1). Wearing PFDs greatly increased the survival chances of fishermen who jumped or fell into the water. The alert describes five representative incidents; none involved vessel loss or damage. If the fishermen who fell overboard had been wearing PFDs, they could have stayed afloat long enough to increase the chances of successful rescue.

Recommendations are given to prevent falls overboard, to increase the chances for successful rescues, and to promote PFD use. Various types of USCG-approved and nonapproved PFDs are described and illustrated in the alert.


  1. NIOSH. Request for assistance in preventing drownings of commercial fishermen. Cincinnati: US Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, CDC, 1994; DHHS publication no. (NIOSH)94-107.

    • Single copies of this document are available without charge from the Publications Office, Division of Standards Development and Technology Transfer, NIOSH, CDC, Mailstop C-13, 4676 Columbia Parkway, Cincinnati, OH 45226-1998; telephone (800) 356-4674 ({513} 533-8328 for persons outside the United States); fax (513) 533-8573.

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