The UK fishing industry: acting to eliminate preventable deaths

On World Day for Safety and Health at Work (28 April), Seafish’s Head of Safety and Training Simon Potten, reminds fishermen that the summer period is not a time to be complacent at sea.

For many fishermen the arrival of spring signals the start of their busiest time; warmer days, calmer seas, better visibility and (hopefully) fish and shellfish aplenty. However, even in seemingly benign conditions fishermen are at risk. Between June and September one third (33%) of non-fatal, major injury accidents occur, with fatigue often the main cause. As we look ahead to the summer months, now is the time to take stock of safety procedures on-board commercial fishing vessels.

A disturbing safety record
While fishing safety has improved, the rate of improvement is still far too slow. Since records began; no single year has come without its fatalities. A single life lost at sea, will always be one life too many.

As Head of Safety and Training, I do not accept that loss of life and serious injuries are inevitable consequences of the dangers of working as a commercial fisherman. Safety and the protection of our fishermen must be put above all else.

Effective leadership
Skippers and owners are responsible for the safety of their vessels, the machinery and equipment used on-board and their crews. They must provide effective leadership to change attitudes, mind-sets and most importantly behaviours when it comes to safe working practices onboard their vessels. Research carried out by Seafish, showed that more than two fifths (43%) of crew members would be influenced by a positive example set by senior colleagues.

Most fatalities result from fishermen falling overboard. Skippers and owners must ensure that on-board working practices are designed to reduce the risk of crew members falling or being dragged overboard or risking serious injury from deck machinery. Regular maintenance and testing to ensure equipment is operating safely must be carried out, with skippers (and owners) leading by example. Mandatory requirements represent the minimum acceptable safety standards, not the maximum.

Skippers need to be vigilant all year round when it comes to the health and safety of crew on-board commercial fishing vessels. Support is available from a number of sources including Seafish, the MCA, the RNLI and Fishermen’s Federations.

Putting learning into practice
Training enables fishermen to learn the breadth of knowledge and skills required to do the job, and do it safely. Seafish facilitates both mandatory and voluntary training for fishermen, some of which is eligible for funding. We also provide eLearning courses free of charge through our online training portal. For more information, please visit:

After training has been completed, it is vital that this learning is put into practice on their vessel for the benefits to be realised.

On-board drills are a legal requirement and we want to encourage more skippers to undertake them regularly and routinely. As a matter of priority, skippers must ensure that their crew know where all safety equipment on-board the vessel is and train them on how to properly use it. As the old adage goes, practice makes perfect – and practice could save your own, or another crew member’s life.

We also want to see all fishermen wearing PFDs when working at sea, providing yet another opportunity for skippers to lead by example. Wear your PFD, they’re useless unless worn. Seafish still has a stock of free PFDs available to commercial fishermen, if you’d like to apply for one, visit:

A wealth of knowledge
There is a wealth of safety knowledge and expertise available for fishermen to draw on.  In addition to Seafish and its network of Approved Training Providers, fishermen can get information, advice, guidance and support from organisations including the MCA, MAIB, RNLI, Fishermen’s Federations, the Fishermen’s Mission and Seafarers UK.

I urge all owners, skippers and crew to get in touch and see what support is available. Let’s make 2017 the safest year yet for the UK fishing industry.

For more information regarding fishermen’s safety and available courses, please contact Simon Potten on


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