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Fishing industry starting to show more flexible attitude toward ergonomics

This past summer, we examined figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics on the number of fatal workplace injuries in 2010, the most recent year for which such data is available. Here, we not only learned that a staggering number of people lost their lives in work accidents -- 4,547 -- but that a large number of these fatal injuries occurred in only a small number of industries.

One of these industries was fishing, where the fatality rate was determined to be a shocking 116 per 100,000 workers. Here, experts blamed the large number of fatalities on poor weather, dangerous equipment/conditions and transportation accidents.

As if this wasn't shocking enough, it's important to recognize that those working in the fishing industry are also at an elevated risk of suffering serious work-related injuries, including carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, shoulder pain and lower back problems.

The science of ergonomics has long been recognized as an effective method of reducing the incidence/severity of these types of sprains and strains. Not surprisingly, however, the fishing industry has been slow to introduce any such programs, perhaps believing that they are better suited to office workers than anglers.

That may soon change, however, as the Alaska Marine Safety Association recently received a $100,000 grant from the Occupational Health and Safety Administration to develop an ergonomics program.

"Ergonomics is the science of adapting your workplace, your tools, equipment and work methods to be more efficient and comfortable and error free by humans. It's basically how a human body interacts with their work environment," said Jerry Dzugan, director of AMSEA. "The goal is to reduce the muscular and skeletal disorders that are pervasive in the fishing jobs."

The ergonomics program, which is slated to begin in the near future, will be added to basic safety drills and training performed by AMSEA instructors.

Here, instructors will show how sprains/strains typically occur, demonstrate proper lifting/bending/moving techniques, teach simple stretching exercises, and discuss how using alternate tools can make a significant difference.

"Having a tool that fits your hand instead of making your hand fit the tool. Things like knives with angles so you can keep your wrist in a neutral position, or fish scrapers that have the bend in the scraper, not in your wrist," said Dzugan. "All those things make a big difference on tendonitis and carpal tunnel."

It should be interesting to see how the Alaskan fishing industry embraces ergonomics ..

Stay tuned for further developments in the area of workers' compensation defense law ...

This post was provided for informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice.


The Bristol Bay Times, "Marine safety organization aims to ease occupational hazards of fisher folk," Laine Welch, Dec. 21, 2012

Yahoo! Finance, "The 10 most dangerous jobs in the U.S.," Travers Korch, June 4, 2012

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