Fatigue and fishing | IMPAC health and safety

17 August, 2018  |  News

The results of a Maritime New Zealand survey on fatigue in the fishing industry have been released.

Of the 318 people who hold fishing-related certificates surveyed, Maritime NZ focused most on the 83 commercial fishermen who spend more than a day at sea at a time.


ryan parker 399441 unsplash2Fatigue is a serious health and safety hazard for the fishing industry. Photo by Ryan Parker on Unsplash.


The results

Maritime NZ report that 70-80% of maritime accidents are thought to be a result of human error – and the results show that fatigue plays a big part in those errors.  

While all the fishermen surveyed are aware of the potential danger of fatigue and agreed that it’s ‘somewhat of’ a problem (5.5 on a scale of 0-10), more than 40% say they haven’t received any kind of fatigue training.

The results go on to outline that not many of the fishermen recognise the signs of fatigue.

‘Feeling tiredness’ is identified by 96% of respondents, followed by ‘slow responses’ (72%), and ‘risk taking’ (50%). The other warning signs of ‘skin problems’ (10%), ‘cravings’ (8%), and ‘allergies’ (4%) were not as well known.

A worrying 56% admitted they'd made mistakes on the job when fatigued and 52% said fatigue brought on mood swings. 34% of those surveyed about fatigue said they had fallen asleep at the wheel, 42% had made a bad decision, and fatigue made 39% easily distracted or unable to concentrate.


Maritime NZ statsOver 50% of those surveyed said that fatigue leads them to make mistakes on the job. Figure: www.maritimenz.govt.nz.


What’s being done?

Despite the bleak results above, it’s not all bad news: Maritime NZ reports that some of the fishermen manage fatigue on the job, while others take preventative steps before sailing. Here’s the steps that they discovered people take on the job:

  • ensuring two people are on the bridge, or using a watch alarm
  • following a sleep roster and watchkeeping timetable
  • taking power naps
  • monitoring themselves for warning signs.

And the steps before sailing:

  • getting adequate sleep
  • eating and drinking well, and avoiding alcohol
  • developing a fatigue and/or time management plan
  • carefully planning trips
  • employing enough staff to ensure that everyone gets a break
  • keeping the vessel well maintained.


Fatigue in the news

Stories of fatigue in the news reinforce the importance of the above statistics. As Maritime NZ reported earlier this month, the grounding and loss of a commercial fishing vessel was due to fatigue.

A 17-year-old deckhand fell asleep while on watch – he had only slept for one hour after working a full day and had never been on watch by himself before.

The owner of the fishing vessel, Wild Fish (NZ) Limited, was fined $27,200 after pleading guilty under the Maritime Transport Act, which prohibits “dangerous activity involving ships or maritime products.”

Neil Rowarth, Maritime NZ Northern Regional Manager, said the prosecution sends a strong message to all maritime operators that they must have an effective system for managing crew fatigue: “Crew fatigue is real and potentially disastrous for ships and their crew.”

And it’s not just a maritime problem – as an article of ours from earlier in the year reported, the 2016 death of an agricultural employee was likely caused by fatigue. The deceased had been working nearly 200 hours a fortnight and had clocked up 16.75 hours on the day of the crash.

Click here to try the quick Test Your Fatigue Expertise quiz that Maritime NZ has put together.

Click here to download the complete Fatigue in Commercial Fishing survey results.