Student Research: Kali Turner

, Environmental and Occupational Health (EOH), 2017
Faculty Advisor: Peter Rabinowitz

Occupational Injuries of Aquaculture Workers in Washington State


Background Little is known about the occupational health and safety risks of animal aquaculture workers. In 2015, the nonfatal occupational injury and illness incidence rate for aquaculture workers in the United States exceeded the national rate for all industries combined (13.6 and 3.3 injuries and illnesses, respectively, per 100 full-time employees), a trend echoed in Washington State (13.3 and 4.5 injuries and illnesses, respectively, per 100 full-time employees). Washington supports 12% of American aquaculture employment, the second highest aquaculture industry employer in the United States as of 2005. Objective The purpose of this study was to better characterize occupational injuries and illnesses facing aquaculture workers in Washington State from 2006-2014. Methods We extracted accepted workers’ compensation claims from January 1, 2006 to December 31, 2014 from the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries’ (L&I) State Fund (SF). Trends in employment, worker demographics (including age, gender, and body mass index (BMI)), claim rate, and injury characteristics were summarized for Washington State aquaculture risk classes. We analyzed accepted claims. Results During the nine-year study period, 1,180 of 1,285 (91.8%) claims were accepted, of which 344 (26.8%) were compensable and 836 (65.1%) were medical-aid only. Men filed 85.3% of claims, 62.8% of claimants were overweight or obese (BMI > 25), and 53.3% of claimants were between ages 25 and 44. Most commonly reported injury types included being struck by/against an object (35.6%) and work-related musculoskeletal disorders (26.3%). There was no statistically significant change in claim rates from 2006 to 2014 (p = 0.77), however, there was a statistically significant change in full-time equivalent (FTE) employment (p = 0.003) when analyzed by both risk classes combined. Conclusion Given the growth in aquaculture production nationally and internationally, our study suggests that the industry should devote greater attention to prevention of work-related injuries. Additionally, aquaculture workers in Washington may be experiencing higher occupational injury and illness rates than compared to other workers in the state, and our study highlights the need for local efforts. Enhanced occupational safety and health programs for this industry could help to reduce injuries and illnesses, as well as the cost of workers’ compensation claims. Employers should focus on interventions to protect workers from physical hazards in the workplace, especially those resulting in being struck by/against objects or WMSD injuries.