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Personal Injury – Fishing Industry

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Fishermen are engaged in one of the most dangerous occupations of any group. On United Kingdom figures, their occupational mortality is exceeded only by mine workers at the coalface. Generally, they are twice as likely to die in the course of their work as a person working on land. Put another way, again on United Kingdom figures, fishermen have an annual risk of 1 in 500 of being killed in the course of their work. This latter figure ignores deaths arising from fatal illnesses arising in the occupation.

Their occupation exposes them to the elements in circumstance where they often have no option to take shelter and brew up a cup of tea while bad weather prevails, as they might if they were on land. The incidence of tuberculosis among fishermen is exceeded only by coal miners and people working in damp steamy conditions such as kitchen staff.

In their daily life they are swinging above large bodies of water, frequently without benefit of life-lines and harness or even life-jackets. There has been a tradition among fishermen not to wear life-jackets, or indeed to learn how to swim. They work in immediate proximity to powerful unguarded machinery such as winches and metal ropes under load, which can and do inflict horrific and permanently disabling injuries. Even a fibre rope is a serious danger if it suddenly becomes taut. They work in cramped, cold, wet and slippery conditions.

It is a regular occurrence for fishermen to be drowned at sea in Irish waters. Many of these deaths and correlated injuries are avoidable. The phrase “ship-shape” reflects the essential orderliness usually associated with life at sea. Many Irish fishermen work in conditions far from this standard. Many skippers have no qualifications and if the boat they are in charge of is less than 50 feet in length, they are not legally obliged to have any.

In keeping with the tradition of not wearing life-jackets, they do not equip their boat with a liferaft. The consequential loss of an entire boat crew is not an uncommon occurrence. Legally, apart from the general provisions of the Safety Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005, boats under 40 feet in length are not obliged to carry liferafts or life-jackets.