The 7th World Conference on Injury Prevention and Safety Promotion, Vienna, Austria, June 6th-9th 2004. Vienna, Austria: Kuratorium für Schutz und Sicherheit/Institut Sicher Leben, 2004 Jun; :145-146
Problem under study: Working in Alaska poses numerous hazards. Between 1990-2002, 797 Alaskans died while working. Several studies conducted over the past decade have identified commercial fishermen and pilots as the highest-risk occupations in the state. However, not all decedents work in such high-risk industries. After the 2002 drowning death of a member of a scientific survey team in Prince William Sound, we undertook a modest study to examine the hazards of traumatic death that scientific and professional workers experience in Alaska. Objectives: To understand and prevent fatal injuries in scientific and licensed professional workers. Methodology: For the purpose of this study, we defined a 'scientific worker' as a person who is working in Alaska as physical or life scientist, scientific technician, or data analyst. We defined a 'licensed professional' as any person whose occupation requires licensing either by state or federal agencies or one who is registered with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game as a Hunting and/or Fishing Guide. We excluded commercial pilots, fishermen, and miners from this study: although they also require occupational licensing, these Alaskan workers have been the subjects of previously published studies. Deaths were included in this study if a person died while working as a scientific or professional worker at the time of his/her death. The following data were compiled using the Alaska Occupational Injury Surveillance System. Results: Between the years 1990 and 2002, there were 78 work-related events that resulted in 93 scientific/professional worker deaths (including 3 suicides). Fish, game, and mountaineering guides accounted for 28 (30.1%) of the worker deaths, followed by biologists, who accounted for 11 (11.8%). In addition to these scientific/professional worker deaths, a total of 39 non-scientific/professional workers were also killed as a result of these events (those fatalities included 13 pilots, 5 passengers, 5 miners, 7 hunters, 3 deckhands, 2 vessel skippers, 2 climbers, 1 repairperson, and 1 secretary. Aircraft crashes (most of which occurred in single-engine aircraft, most commonly by flying into terrain in poor visibility conditions) accounted for 43 (46.2%) of all scientific/professional worker deaths, followed by drowning, both vessel-related and non-vessel related, which resulted in 13 (14%) fatalities, and falls, which accounted for 9 (9.7%) fatalities. There were 9 homicides, 7 of which resulted from assaults on cab drivers. One seismologist was fatally mauled by a bear. Conclusion: Scientific and professional workers in Alaska experienced a substantial number of fatalities from traumatic injury. Nearly half of these deaths occurred in aircraft crashes. Recommendations: Avoiding flying into limited visibility conditions, refraining from pressuring charter or air taxi pilots to fly into marginal conditions, and exercising caution during fish and wildlife spotting (to avoid mid-air collisions and 'moose stalls') might improve one's chances of surviving such trips. Workers should consider enplaning only aircraft with shoulder harness restraint systems and should wear the harness during all phases of flight. Those workers who will be flying in helicopters, or flying in fixed-wing aircraft in rough conditions, should consider wearing crash helmets at all times that the vehicle is in motion and/or airborne. All workers should wear flotation devices when wading or operating or riding in boats and marine vessels. All workers who will be climbing should obtain and use adequate equipment and assure that they are trained in proper climbing and rescue techniques.
The 7th World Conference on Injury Prevention and Safety Promotion, Vienna Austria, June 6th-9th 2004