A year of all-time low statistics, but is the fishing industry really safer?

Posted by Simon Potten on 29 June 2018

Off the back of the MAIB's latest Annual Report, Simon Potten, Head of Safety and Training at Seafish shares his thoughts on what this means for the fishing industry:

On the face of it, the MAIB's Annual Report for 2017 shows encouraging signs that safety is continuing to improve in the UK's fishing industry. For example, over the last ten years, an average of 14 fishing vessels have been lost per year, however in 2017 only six commercial fishing vessels were lost. That's less than half the average and a new all-time low, evidencing the positive impact of our rigorous construction standards for new fishing vessels and regular/effective inspections of existing vessels (by the Maritime & Coastguard Agency). That said, with 146 fishing vessels involved in incident in the past year, (some of which could have resulted in loss of vessel) we cannot become complacent. 

There was also a reduction in the number of serious injuries reported to the MAIB, down from 31 to 27, another all-time low. Whilst on the face of it this appears to be encouraging, the MAIB is concerned that this may be due to many injuries going unreported, a view which I share. Research conducted with one insurance provider indicated that only 13.5% of injuries for which it had received a claim, had been reported to MAIB. This is a serious concern and is not something that would allowed in a UK workplace on land.

Tragically, five fishermen died during 2017, in five separate incidents between the months of September and November. Although a reduction compared to 2016 (when nine fishermen lost their lives), this is particularly tragic as it followed a period of just over twelve months where the UK fishing industry did not have a single fatality (September 2016 to September 2017) which is the goal the industry wants to reach every year. 

Of these, two fishermen died whilst returning to fishing vessels moored alongside in port and three died after ending up in the sea, as a result of falling or being dragged overboard by gear, or as a result of their vessel capsizing.

The reality is that some, if not all, of these fatalities could have been prevented. 

The importance for fishermen working at sea on open decks (or even in and around ports and harbours) to wear personal flotation devices (PFDs) at all times cannot be stressed strongly enough. No one expects to fall overboard, so a PFD has to be worn at all times to be of any use. 

Fishermen must also have their wits about them when getting on and off their vessels in port, especially if they are living onboard. Seafish recently purchased and distributed 5,000 copies of the best-practice guidance produced by Port Skills and Safety on "Safe Access to Fishing Vessels and Small Craft." These publications are available to fishermen free-of-charge by contacting training@seafish.co.uk and can also be downloaded here.  

So overall, a mixed bag. There have been positive signs of improvement for the UK fishing industry, but at a slow rate which the MAIB's outgoing Chief Executive, Steve Clinch, describes in his foreword as "glacial". 

The really good news is that, by going more than twelve months without a fatality, the fishing industry has proved that working in the UK fishing industry does not have to be deadly and that sometime soon we can look forward to an MAIB Annual Report which records zero deaths. For now, we must not slacken off on our collective efforts to help fishermen identify and adopt safer working practices.