NOIRS 1997 Abstracts of the National Occupational Injury Research Symposium 1997. Washington, DC: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 1997 Oct; :19-20
The Arctic and subarctic waters of Alaska provide a very hazardous work setting, with great distances, seasonal darkness, cold waters, high winds, brief fishing seasons, and icing. Deaths have been inordinately common in Alaska's commercial fishing industry. Over 90% of these deaths have been due to drowning or drowning plus hypothermia, following vessel capsizings and sinkings. During 1991 through 1994, the U.S. Commercial Fishing Vessel Safety Act of 1988 (USCFVSA) required the implementation of comprehensive prevention measures for all fishing vessels in offshore cold waters, including immersion suits, survival craft (life rafts), EPIRBs and crew training in emergency response and first aid. To examine the effectiveness of the measures instituted under the USCFVSA in reducing the high occupational fatality rate (200/100,000/year in 1991-1992) among Alaska's commercial fishermen Comprehensive surveillance for commercial fishing occupational fatalities was established by our office during 1991 and 1992 in Alaska. Demographic, risk factor, and incident data for 1991 through 1996 were compiled and analyzed for trend. Findings. During 1991-1996, there was a significant (p=.002) decrease in Alaskan commercial fishing-related deaths, from 36 in 1991 to 35 in 1992, 22 in 1993, 11 in 1994 (artificially reduced number due to closure of crab fisheries that year), 18 in 1995, and 24 in 1996. While man-overboard drownings and vessel-related events in crabbing (often conducted far offshore and in winter) have continued to occur, marked progress (significant downward trend, p<0.0002) has been made in saving lives of those involved in vessel-related events. Specific measures tailored to prevent drowning in vessel capsizings and sinkings in Alaska's commercial fishing industry have been very successful so far. However, these events continue to occur, placing fishermen and rescue personnel at substantial risk. Additional efforts must be made to reduce the frequency of vessel events, enable similar progress in crabbing fisheries, and to prevent man-overboard events and drownings associated with them.