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Int J Circumpolar Health. 1998;57 Suppl 1:503-9.

Preventing deaths in Alaska's commercial fishing industry.

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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Division of Safety Research, Anchorage, USA.



The arctic and sub-arctic waters of Alaska provide a very hazardous work setting, with special hazards posed by great distances, seasonal darkness, cold waters, high winds, brief fishing seasons, and icing. Our intent is to reduce the remarkably high occupational fatality rate (200/100,000/year in 1991-1992) among Alaska's commercial fishing workers. Over 90% of these deaths have been due to drowning or drowning plus hypothermia, primarily associated with vessel capsizings and sinkings.


Comprehensive surveillance for commercial fishing occupational fatalities was established during 1991 in Alaska. During 1990 through 1994, the U.S. Commercial Fishing Industry Vessel Safety Act of 1988 required the implementation of comprehensive prevention measures for all fishing vessels in offshore cold waters, including immersion suits and other personal flotation devices, survival craft (life rafts), emergency position-indicating radio beacons, and crew training in emergency response and first aid. Parallel to this, voluntary training efforts by nonprofit organizations have greatly increased.


During 1990-1994, drowning was the leading cause of occupational death in Alaska. During this period, 117 fishers died, 101 of them from drowning or drowning/hypothermia. During 1991-1994, there was a substantial decrease in Alaskan commercial fishing-related deaths, from 34 in 1991 to 35 in 1992, 22 in 1993, and 10 in 1994. While man-overboard drownings and some other categories of deaths (falls, fires) have continued to occur, the most marked progress has been in vessel-related events.


Specific measures tailored to prevent drowning in vessel capsizings and sinkings in Alaska's commercial fishing industry have been very successful so far. Additional efforts must be made to reduce the frequency of vessel events and to prevent man-overboard events and drownings associated with them.

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