It’s no wonder Discovery Channel’s show Deadliest Catch is so popular. The thrills and close-calls are real: based on annual statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor, commercial fishing is one of the riskiest occupations for fishermen and women.

Preliminary data released on September 20, 2012, may be a little confusing. Overall, the fishing industry is grouped under a parent category –  agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting. In that category, 557 workers sustained a fatal injury at a rate of 24.4 people per 100,000 workers at full-time status.

If we fine-comb things, 40 of the 557 deaths were attributed only to the fishing industry or fishing-related workers. The fatal injury rate was 121.2 deaths per 100,000 full-time workers. That is the highest rate of any occupation listed in the data (pdf). Why has the rate skyrocketed? Because there are fewer workers working fewer hours than other occupations, meaning there is a greater risk for those who do decide to brave it out on the water.

The chart below compares the fishing industry’s parent category to other sectors.

The number of injuries per sector appears in red on the left, while the fatal injury rate per sector appears in blue on the right. The rate represents the number of fatal occupational injuries per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers. The calculation includes the total number of hours worked by the sector. Click the image to enlarge.

So for those who haven’t been on a commercial fishing rig lately, are you asking yourself what is it that makes this occupation so dangerous? Jill Janocha of the Bureau of Labor writes in an essay,

This occupation is characterized by strenuous work, long hours, seasonal employment, and some of the most hazardous conditions in the workforce. These workers are often at sea for weeks or months at a time, sometimes having to stand on deck, fishing for long periods with little or no sleep. They are constantly being tossed around by wind and rough seas, with water in their face and under their feet, which adds an element of balance to the skills needed to do their job safely. Weather does not stop production, and given that these workers do not work in a factory or office building, it increases the unpredictability of their working conditions. Access to on-site medical care for these workers is limited to the knowledge of those on the boat with them or the response of the Coast Guard.

Definitely sounds like it could be a plot summary from an episode of Deadliest Catch.


View more statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics here.

Image from echoforsberg on the flickr Creative Commons

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