Injury and fatalities are not an acceptable risk of being a commercial fisherman in the UK

Posted by Simon Potten, Head of Safety, Training and Services on 03 August 2015

It was extremely saddening to read in the Marine Accident Investigation Branch's 2014 Annual Report that eight fishermen lost their lives last year, double the number who died in 2013. Given that the ultimate goal of the Safety and Training team at Seafish is to achieve a year in which no fishermen die, this news is hard to take.

The eight fatalities in 2014 comprised three crew members who were lost after their vessel sank, two crew members who died from carbon monoxide poisoning whilst sleeping onboard, one fisherman who died after his vessel struck rocks and sank, one fisherman who died after becoming caught in a winch and one fisherman who died after being dragged overboard whilst shooting creels. In addition 38 fishermen suffered serious injuries, ranging from sprains and strains to bone fractures and traumatic amputation.

My thoughts go out to everybody affected by these tragic accidents, but it is clear from the evidence provided in the MAIB report that the vast majority were preventable. The harsh reality is that the safety record of the UK fishing industry is simply not good enough.

Seafish, and all of the other organisations involved in trying to make fishing safer, provide a lot of expert information, advice, guidance and training to fishermen, but it appears that this is not always being applied onboard and that needs to change.
The legal requirements for fishermen's training are minimal. Every commercial fisherman has to complete basic safety training, but there are still fishermen out there who haven't done so. Safety knowledge needs to be kept up-to-date and fishermen who did their basic safety training more than three years ago really need to think about re-attending. This can be done free-of-charge at the moment thanks to funding from the Maritime & Coastguard Agency and Seafish.

Only fishing vessels of 16.5m and above require qualified skippers, but every skipper of every fishing vessel should be trained and qualified to operate it safely, for their own safety and that of their crew members. Fishermen can currently apply for a grant of up to £1,500 towards the cost of approved courses so there is no excuse for missing out. Just email training@seafish.co.uk with your enquiry and we'll do everything we can to help you.

However, simply getting more fishermen attending more training courses is only the first step towards a safer industry. The knowledge and skills gained have to be put into practice onboard and safer working practices adopted. Regular drills are essential to make sure everyone onboard knows what to do in the event of an emergency. Practice makes perfect. You may not get a second chance. Guidance on drills is provided by the MCA in MGN 433.

We are also continuing with our free PFD initiative and we still have over 1,000 PFDs available for distribution to fishermen in England (the SFF is providing these in Scotland). We want to make sure that every commercial fishing vessel in the UK has sufficient PFDs onboard for every crew member to wear whilst working at sea. Again, contact us and we'll help you.

There is support available to ensure the safety of fishing vessels too. The MAIB report shows that five of the nine under 15m fishing vessels lost in 2014 were a result of flooding or capsizing. Many being possibly preventable with a safety check from our Marine Survey team who can advise on a vessel's  structure and fit-out. They can check any alterations made to a vessel in relation to safety provisions or provide advice ahead of any planned changes. There is a charge for the service, but it is a worthwhile investment when compared to the cost of possibly losing your vessel!

There are many, many other initiatives aimed at keeping fishermen safe at sea, including the Kingfisher Bulletins and Kingfisher fishing plotter files that provide free and up-to-date information on the location of offshore hazards, structures and activities. Keep up to date with the latest data - all promoted through @KingfisherInfo on Twitter.

Safety is not a tick box exercise (training done - tick, risk assessment completed - tick, etc.); it requires constant vigilance, application and attention.

Everybody needs to take responsibility for safety, but it is the owners and skippers who are ultimately responsible for ensuring the safety of everyone who works on their vessels.

Let's all pull together to make zero fatalities a reality. No more excuses.