Written by Jack Kemerer, manager, U.S. Coast Guard Fishing Vessel Safety Program
The U.S. Coast Guard and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, or NIOSH, have renewed their joint commitment to promote safety in the commercial fishing industry. By extending a 2008 memorandum of agreement, the two organizations will continue joint efforts on casualty analysis and risk management within the commercial fishing industry, along with work on the National Occupational Research Agenda for NIOSH.
Dr. Jennifer Lincoln, Ph.D., captain, U.S. Public Health Service, leads this effort for NIOSH. Her efforts over the years have resulted in numerous reports on fishing risks and interventions, identification of high-risk fisheries and analysis of causal factors of casualties. Lincoln has also been an integral participant at Coast Guard Commercial Fishing Safety Advisory Committee meetings by presenting findings from various safety studies and casualty analyses she has conducted. Coordination of responsibilities under the MOA for the Coast Guard is conducted by the Office of Commercial Vessel Compliance Fishing Vessel Safety Division.
The Coast Guard’s efforts to enhance safety in the commercial fishing industry began in earnest after passage of the Commercial Fishing Industry Vessel Safety Act of 1988. Safety requirements for commercial fishing industry vessels were promulgated in 1991 and are found in Title 46 Code of Federal Regulations Part 28. The Coast Guard’s safety program is centered on dockside safety examinations of commercial fishing vessels conducted by a cadre of fishing vessel safety examiners. While the dockside examinations are generally voluntary in nature, they are mandatory in some cases. The Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2010 and the Coast Guard and Maritime Safety Act of 2012 make the dockside safety examinations mandatory after October 2015 for commercial fishing vessels operating beyond three nautical miles of the baseline from which the territorial sea of the U.S. is measured, or three miles from the coastline of the Great Lakes.
NIOSH is the federal agency responsible for conducting research and making recommendations to identify and prevent work-related illness and injury. In 1991, NIOSH initiated an injury and fatality prevention effort focused on high risk industries in Alaska including the commercial fishing industry. In support of this effort, NIOSH conducts research to track hazards and identify the most dangerous fisheries, identifies the size of the commercial fishing workforce, develops unique and tailored interventions and evaluates the effectiveness of regulations and interventions. Since the start of the prevention effort, safety among the Alaskan commercial fishing industry has improved, evidenced by a 54% decline in rate of fatalities from 1990 to 2012. Building on the benefits of past successes at reducing injuries and fatalities in Alaska’s commercial fishing industry, continued formal collaboration between NIOSH and the Coast Guard will seek to promote fishing safety and health improvements throughout the Nation.