Unfavourable exposures for workers in the fishing fleet, such as a cold, noise, heavy lifting, inconvenient working hours, long work days and excessive strain are factors that may negatively affect health and work participation. Combinations of these exposures are often found on board fishing vessels. Moreover, workers on fishing vessels deal with constant and often unpredictable vessel movements, vibration and exposure to airborne particles of biologic origin. On the other hand, fishers are found to have a positive attitude towards their occupation, which indicates the presence of workplace-related factors that promote job satisfaction and a sense of belonging.
The main objective of this project is to study the interaction between work, work environment and health of fishermen in the Norwegian fishing fleet. We aim to provide knowledge about which work-related factors might affect health and work participation negatively, and which factors might promote good health, foster job satisfaction and participation in working life.
In one of the sub-projects the aim was to investigate work strain and thermophysiological responses of twenty-five fishermen on the trawl and factory decks of five deep-sea vessels in the Norwegian and Barents Sea. During a six-hour shift, heart rate, core and skin temperatures were recorded. Fishermen experience intermittent periods of heavy work on the trawl deck shown as elevated core temperature and heart rate. Work on the factory deck includes long periods of repetitive work with light to moderate work strain.
In another work package we measured exposure to bioaerosols (aerosols containing particles with biological origin) in the fishers breathing zone. These aerosols may contain biological material from the raw material itself or from microbiological organisms in the environment. The results showed that fishers in the fabric on board are exposed to proteins, enzymes, allergens and endotoxins, as shown also in the seafood industry onshore. Exposure levels varied between trawlers. We detected the highest bioaerosol levels on the oldest trawlers (15-21 years) compared to the more modern trawlers (3 years). Other important factors for bioaerosol exposure levels may be processing techniques, fish species and amount processed, and ventilation in the fabric area. We also found that fishers, processing fish on board, showed reduced lung function values compared to a non-exposed control group, and this is in accordance with previous findings in seafood industry worker populations onshore.
In this project we also measured personal noise exposure during work within the areas where the fish was processed. In addition, our questionnaire included 7 items concerning noise exposure and related outcomes. We found clear trends indicating that occupational exposure of high noise increases noise annoyance and the frequency and annoyance of tinnitus. At least 60% of the exposure measurements exceeded the upper action level in the Norwegian regulation for marine vessels. This action level is 85 dB daily exposure. There are also clear indications that exposure of high noise during work increases the extent of communication disturbances and cognitive disturbances during work. Finally, there seems to be a potential for using hearing protectors more often and better adapted to the functional needs. This implies both the usage during work and in order to decrease the extent of noise-disturbed sleep.
The work as a fisherman is physically demanding. However, results from another sub-project ("Fiskerhelseundersøkelsen") and a selection of Norwegian fishermen who took part in a telephone interview (n = 1000) reported good health and high job satisfaction. This gives reason to believe that several health-promoting factors exists. The fishermen highlights the friendship and independence as key reasons why they thrive. The survey shows that a high proportion of sickness absence is due to work-related injuries and that coastal fishermen are especially vulnerable. We also see that many fishermen are struggling with musculoskeletal disorders and that they largely associate this to their work and working environment. That the main reason for the absence are injuries related to work, emphasizes the necessity of prevention is a priority, despite the fact that the fishermen themselves are reporting good health. Further, analysis of differences between different vessel groups or modes of operation, show that coastal fishermen are more exposed to climatic and ergonomic working environment factors than fishermen in the other vessel groups.
The project provides a better understanding of the workload and exposure to environmental conditions while working on trawlers, and on health and well-being among fishers. The results gives a very good basis for prevention and to reduce the number of injuries, health problems, sick leave and drop off from the profession.
Fishers are exposed to a high risk of serious injuries, and several unfavourable working conditions potentially harmful to their health. An increase in foreign workers entering the fishing fleet in recent years might indicate that jobs are becoming less a ttractive to Norwegians. As many fishers will stay in the occupation for a long time, the existence of workplace-related factors that promote presence are however, also likely to be found. Despite this, there is a lack of research-based knowledge on fishe r's health status and the interaction between work, working environment and health. The proposed project aims to study this interaction, thus providing knowledge about work-related factors that might affect health negatively, as well as health promoting f actors.
A combination of quantitative and qualitative research methods is applied. Register studies will identify which diagnoses cause sick leave, hospitalization and disability in fishers. The association between exposures and health is studied through clinical testing and physiological measurements. Through a survey and interviews data on self-reported health status and fishers own perceptions on the interaction between working environment and health will be collected. An integrated analysis of all da ta, aimed at identifying factors that may have an effect on worker's health, will be conducted in cooperation with an international advisory expert group. Further, a reference group of representatives from the fishing industry will also contribute to the research.
Results are expected to add new knowledge on the interaction between working environment and health that will be of substantial value for measures aimed at preventing occupational diseases and withdrawal from working life.