COMMERCIAL FISHING SAFETY
Commercial fishermen display different types of Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs) while on deck. PFDs come in many different styles and configurations, are comfortable, and are proven to help save lives in the event of a fall overboard. Image by NIOSH
Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs)
Falling overboard is the second leading cause of death among commercial fishermen nationwide. Of the 210 fishermen who died from falls overboard between 2000 and 2014 NONE of them were wearing a personal flotation device (PFD) when they drowned. Many of these fatalities would have been prevented if the fisherman had been able to float.
Fishing Safety Success Stories
DHHS (NIOSH) Publication Number 2019-164
In November of 2016, Tyler was working as a sternman on his dad’s lobster boat when he was knocked overboard by a trap they were setting. Watch the video to find out what happened next.
DHHS (NIOSH) Publication Number 2019-163
In the fall of 2016, Gerry fell overboard while mooring his lobster boat; he wasn’t wearing a PFD. Water filled his oil skins and he was unable to re-board his boat. Watch the video to find out what happened next.
Improving PFD Use among Commercial Fishermen
The NIOSH PFD Study
There is no regulation requiring fishermen to wear a PFD while working. A NIOSH study conducted in 2008 found that 16% of respondents never wear a PFD while working on deck, even though many respondents also said that PFDs are effective at preventing man overboard fatalities. Reasons for not wearing a PFD included perceived lack of comfort, entanglement hazards, and restrictions to movement while working.
In another part of the study, researchers conducted an evaluation with commercial fishermen from four gear groups to rate the comfort and acceptability of six modern PFDs. About 200 fishermen were asked to evaluate a PFD for one month while working on deck so that wearable PFDs could be identified. The results of this study were translated into a series of gear-specific fact sheets that highlight PFDs rated as comfortable by commercial fishermen.
DHHS (NIOSH) Publication Number 2013-131
This document is a supplement to the gear-specific fact sheets NIOSH has published and has guidance for selecting a PFD that will work for you.
DHHS (NIOSH) Publication Number 2013-106
This document has guidance for selecting a PFD that will work for you and shows which PFDs were preferred by commercial crabbers.
DHHS (NIOSH) Publication Number 2013-107
This document has guidance for selecting a PFD that will work for you and shows which PFDs were preferred by commercial gillnetters.
DHHS (NIOSH) Publication Number 2013-108
This document has guidance for selecting a PFD that will work for you and shows which PFDs were preferred by commercial longliners.
Live to be Salty is a health communication intervention designed to increase adoption of PFDs among commercial fishermen to reduce drownings from falls overboard. To “Live to be Salty” means to take steps that will lead to a long and productive fishing career.
The project focuses on raising awareness of the risk of man overboard fatalities among commercial fishermen and provides links to locating comfortable personal flotation devices that can be worn on deck while working. Materials for the intervention can be found on the NIOSH Live to be Salty Resource Page.
Vessel disasters account for over 50% of commercial fishing fatalities in the United States. This video highlights an all too common type of vessel disaster, a rapid capsizing event due to large waves. The story focuses on a vessel that capsizes in Alaska’s Bristol Bay, and the crew was able to survive 2 hours in the cold water due to the inflatable Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs) they wear as standard work gear.
Or view this video on the NIOSH YouTube channel.
NIOSH, in cooperation with AMSEA and Alaska Sea Grant, has created this video designed to help crew prevent and respond to man overboard events. It features interviews with fishermen about experiences with falling overboard, and explains how to successfully recover a person in the water.
These are the two peer-reviewed journal papers that describe the results of the NIOSH PFD study in 2008/2009
- Predictors of Personal Flotation Device (PFD) use Among Workers in the Alaska Commercial Fishing Industry
Safety Science: March 2013 / 53: 177-185
- Worker Satisfaction with Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs) in the Fishing Industry: Evaluations in Actual Use
Applied Ergonomics: July 2012 / 43(4): 747-752