Reducing Slips, Trips and Falls in the Fishing Industry (Part 1 of 2)

by Brie Weisman, OTR/L with Maine AgrAbility

Fishermen are at particular risk for slips, trips, and falls (STFs). On-deck injuries account for 12% of the fatal injuries and the largest number of hospitalized non-fatal injuries in the U.S., many caused by STFs.  About a quarter of the industry’s deaths result from falls overboard. Boats in motion and slippery surfaces combine to form a real, constant hazard. Numbness caused by cold and tiredness only compound the danger.

Improvements in fishing technology are making the industry safer and more efficient overall, but these developments carry some unintended consequences for industry safety. Greater mechanization requires less general fitness from fishermen. Old age, extra weight, and general reduced fitness are all factors that dramatically increase risk of STFs.

Before we discuss prevention, let’s get some definitions on the table.

Slip: Loss of balance due to loss of friction between your seat, grip, or foothold. Even without an associated fall, a slip can cause an injury through a violent wrench to your muscles from the effort to stay upright, or from flailing arms or feet striking something sharp or hard.

Trip: Loss of balance from an unexpected disruption of motion due to contact, most often by foot, with an object, or by an unexpected drop in surface. Injuries occur in manners similar to slips.

Fall: Loss of balance causing an uncontrolled drop to the ground or collision with an object, such as tripping and striking the gunnel.

While most STFs end with little more than a grunt and embarrassment, even short falls while standing or walking can end in injury. The majority are minor sprains, strains, or bruising, but a considerable number of STFs end in injuries requiring treatment, with a few ending tragically in permanent disabilities or death. Common sense dictates taking reasonable precautions to eliminate these hazards.

  1. Maintain fitness. Fit people suffer fewer STFs and fewer injuries from the STFs they inevitably have.

  2. Stretch. Staying limber increases balance and agility, lessens injuries, improves recovery time.

  3. Maintain good posture. Good posture = good balance. We’re often stiff after long sessions seated in a machine or vehicle, so take a moment to stretch and unkink when finally getting up. Think military: chest out, shoulders back,  head up in neutral.

  4. Wear proper eyewear. Glare and bright sunlight can decrease visual acuity and also cause fatigue and accidents beyond STFs. Sunglasses are essential safety gear.

  5. Wear proper footwear for you, the task, and the weather. Footwear = tires for people.

  6. Be aware that medications may inhibit coordination, balance, or focus. Ask your doctor if alternate medications may have weaker side effects, or if taking medication on a different schedule might work better for you.

  7. Stay alert. Scan for trip hazards, slick surfaces, uneven surfaces. Take care whenever carrying or moving heavy or cumbersome objects. Hold objects close to your body to reduce strain and improve balance.

  8. Stay focused. Pause work during phone use or other distractions.

  9. Learn to fall safely. (This is easily learned and surprisingly effective at preventing injury.)

STFs will always be part of fishing, but we can eliminate much of the lost time, injuries, and still worse tragedies caused by STFs by maintaining a safe work environment and expecting responsible preparation and best practices. In the next issue of CFN we’ll discuss how to fall correctly, and the best exercises and stretches for strengthening the core to reduce STFs, and injury severity when they do occur.

(Statistics from CDC.)