Andrew Watterson, front left, with the team who will study health and safety in aquaculture. Photo: University of Stirling

Stirling professor leads aquaculture safety study

Protecting the health of the world’s 18 million aquaculture workers will be the focus of a new project led by a University of Stirling academic.

Published Last updated

Despite being an at-times hazardous industry, the risks posed by fish farming have been generally neglected.

Experts gathered at Stirling this month to finalise an analysis, led by Stirling’s Professor Andrew Watterson, of global occupational health and safety standards and challenges.

University of Stirling professor Andrew Watterson will lead the study into safety and health in aquaculture. Photo: University of Stirling

It will provide an overview of global aquaculture and fish farming occupational health and safety issues along the primary supply chain, in marine and freshwater locations. The report covers diving, construction works – such as the establishment of stock-holding units like ponds, racks and cages – as well as harvesting, processing, and transport of produce.

Workplace injuries

The new study, funded by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations, focuses on national and continental profiles from around the world, from Africa to Australasia, and Europe to North America. It follows a decision by the FAO Committee on Fisheries to prioritise occupational safety and health (OSH) issues in aquaculture.

The project, administered by the International Union of Food, Workers (IUF), also explores workplace injuries in the sector relating to machinery, tools, boats, vehicles, vehicles, drowning, falls, electrocution and bites. Occupational diseases are generally under-reported across the world and aquaculture presents many threats to health including those linked to heat and cold, dehydration, work-related neck and upper limb disorders, respiratory problems, allergies, parasites, bacteria from feed, skin issues, and hazards related to ingestion and inhalation. Additional problems have emerged connected to the impact of stress, long hours, evening and night shifts and lone working.

Welfare conditions

Welfare conditions and work-related factors that may contribute to ill-health have been included in the study, such as wages, housing, access to healthcare and transport.

In addition, the team have considered relevant global legislation, including national laws, international codes, labour practice guidance and industry standards.

Project lead Professor Watterson, of Stirling’s Faculty of Health Sciences and Sport, said: “Our report aims to set out what works, and what does not, on aquaculture occupational health and safety across the globe and focus on how to improve standards and reduce risks.

Prevention of hazards

“This will involve looking at occupational safety and health risk management in aquaculture and identifying best practice  including assessment, communication, mitigation and, in particular, protection from and prevention of hazards and risks in aquaculture.

“We will also consider the costs of implementing OSH requirements and procedures in aquaculture operations, who bears the costs of poor OSH, and the feasibility of adaptation of existing guidance documentation – for example, as developed for other agricultural and food-producing sectors – to aquaculture.

“Our report will pick up opportunities and constraints faced by small-scale, rural aquaculture farmers when introducing or improving OSH risk management measures in their farms. It will also identify further research and development needs on OSH in aquaculture, including information gaps relating to hazards and risks.”