The Health Challenges of Fishing Industry Workers
Physician's Weekly
October 21, 2022
The Health Challenges of Fishing Industry Workers

There are a number of persons who earn their living either directly or indirectly from the fishing industry. In reviewing the health hazards, I will focus on the following categories of workers within this scriptural vocation: a. commercial fishing boat workers, b. fish processing plant workers and c. divers.

Commercial fishing boat workers

This is not a job for the meek or faint-hearted, for many workers endure sub-optimal living conditions, shortages in onboard food and fresh water, a lack of safety equipment, inordinately protracted working hours superimposed on the challenge of ever-dwindling fish stocks. Furthermore, it is almost impossible for the relevant authorities to satisfactorily police the working conditions of fishermen at sea.

The job of a commercial fisherman is considered highly dangerous.

Rough seas, open hatches, slippery decks, unsecured cargo, fishing lines, and cables, the handling and lifting of heavy objects, fatigue, and challenging weather conditions constitute a recipe for misadventure. The closest medical facility is often hours away when such occurs out to sea. Inherent risks commercial fishermen often face include:

  • Falling on decks
  • Falling overboard
  • Extreme sun and heat
  • Drowning

Because of the demands of the job and the challenging working conditions, those working in such a capacity are often subjected to:

  • Injuries, ranging from minor to serious, including death.
  • Musculoskeletal disorders, especially of the arms, shoulders, and neck.
  • Dehydration.
  • Obesity as a result of being unable to adequately exercise.
  • Hearing loss.
  • Leukemia, lung, and skin cancer.
  • Eczemas, photodermatitis, actinic keratosis.
  • Dental disease.Hypertension and type 2 diabetes secondary to poor diet.
  • Vestibular dysfunction.
  • Drug abuse, especially alcohol and benzodiazepines (sleeping tablets)

Fish processing plant workers

A number of health issues arise as a result of:

  • High noise levels
  • Ergonomic challenges
  • Environmental chemicals and toxins
  • Low temperatures
  • Exposure to microorganisms
  • Bioaerosols
  • Work-related stress

The more common hazards reported are:

  • Cuts, scrapes, bruises, and puncture wounds. If not attended to immediately, these injuries often become infected.
  • A range of soft tissue and bony injuries secondary to falls on slippery floors.
  • Stings from the spines of snapper, Mahimahi, tuna, lionfish, and lobster.
  • Whitlow infections of the fingers.

Repetitive injuries

  • Hand injuries from strapping machines.
  • Venous circulatory disorders for those who primarily stand.
  • Hypothermia as a result of the low ambient temperatures within sections of the plant.
  • Hearing loss secondary to environmental noise.
  • Back pain from lifting heavy objects.
  • Allergic reactions.

Scuba and Free Divers

Diving accidents are not uncommon in fishermen who dive for lobsters and conch. The most common serious accidents (e.g. decompression accidents) are often a result of inadequate training, ascending to the surface too quickly, faulty diving gear, and entanglement. The lack of unencumbered access to a decompression (hyperbaric) chamber compounds this issue. While free divers rarely experience decompression sickness, they often suffer from the other diving-related challenges that scuba divers face.

  • Decompression sickness (“the bends”)
  • Vertigo
  • Ruptured eardrum
  • Nosebleeds
  • Collapsed lung
  • Oxygen toxicity
  • Hypothermia
  • Muscle cramps
  • Puncture wounds
  • Attacks by sea creatures – e.g. jellyfish, sting rays, eels, octopus, sharks, groupers, etc.
  • Drowning

Author: Dr. C. Malcolm Grant – Family Physician, c/o Family Care Clinic, Arnos Vale,,, 1(784)570-9300 (Office), 1(784)455-0376 (WhatsApp)
Disclaimer: The information provided in the above article is for educational purposes only and does not substitute for professional medical advice. Please consult a medical professional or healthcare provider if you are seeking medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment. Dr. C. Malcolm Grant, Family Care Clinic or The Searchlight Newspaper or their associates, respectively, are not liable for risks or issues associated with using or acting upon the information provided above.