Bryan Berna

Project title: Occupational Noise Exposures Aboard Catcher Processors in the Bering Sea and Pacific Ocean

Degree: MS | Program: Industrial Hygiene (IH) | Project type: Thesis/Dissertation
Completed in: 2005 | Faculty advisor: Noah S. Seixas


According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, more than 15 million persons are employed aboard vessels that target marine fisheries [FAO, 2004.] Across this labor force as many as 24 million non-fatal injuries are estimated to occur annually [ILO, 1998]. Despite this alarming injury rate, the current safety statues of this industry is markedly better than it was two decades ago. The fishing industry has shown increasing dedication towards addressing the well-documented hazards of commercial fishing [NRC, 1991; Knapp, 1991]. In 1988 the U.S. Congress promulgated the landmark safety legislation, the Commercial Fishing Industry Vessel Safety Act (CFIVCA), requiring vessels to carry emergency rafts, suits, and radio beacons. Since then, there has been a substantial decrease in major injury and loss of life on U.S. operated vessels [Lincon, 2001]. Widely reported, these achievements of lowering fatality and injury rates confirm the industry is capable of addressing health and safety inadequacies when they are isolated and well defined.

In the North Pacific, whose fisheries account for over half of the fish harvested in the United States, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has tracked occupational health trends through the Alaska Occupational Injury Surveillance System (AOISS) and the Alaska Trauma Registry (ATR) [Husberg, 1998]. One unstudied and potentially major source of occupational illness, noise induced hearing loss (NIHL), has not been captured in the ATR databases. Despite a documented association between hearing loss and increased risk of further occupational injury [Zwerling et al., 1997] the status of short and long term auditory health of thousand of crew members aboard fishing vessels has largely been overlooked or underreported. For an industry that remains burdened by a full-time equivalent fatality rate of greater than 20 times the overall U.S. occupational fatality rate [CDC, 1993] it is understandable how this oversight has been sustained. Regardless of its second tier status among the industry’s other dramatic health and safety risks, the protection of crews’ auditory health is essential and one NIHL is one occupational illness that is uniquely preventable.

Taken from the beginning of thesis.