A report from Norway finds the aquaculture sector is still reporting a high level of industrial injuries. Vince McDonagh reports

A growing number of Norwegian aquaculture staff are worried that their work is damaging their health.

It is not so much a fear of being killed or serious injury – although that danger exists  – but more to do with the impact of strain injuries resulting from heavy lifting and repetitive tasks.

These worries have been highlighted in a comprehensive Health and Safety Executive (HSE) survey of almost 1,300 staff.

The Norwegian HSE believes the workers have reason to be concerned, pointing out that the risk of injury is statistically high among the 7,000 people who work on the fish farming frontline.

Some 62% of those surveyed said they were worried that the working environment around farms could affect their health, with around half citing accidents as the chief cause.

The majority consider strain injuries to be the biggest hazard. It is already known that the main risk factors are from monotonous heavy lifting, especially when the upper body is bent or twisted.

Senior SINTEF researcher Trine Thorvaldsen, who led the survey, says that technology in the industry is developing at a rapid pace so it is important to keep a close eye on safety issues.

She adds: “The everyday life of the employees is changing with new vessels, new cage constructions and in the not-too-distant future, facilities far out to sea.”

The employees’ working environment is rarely the driver for changes and innovations, despite the fact that technology can be a key to reducing risk, Thorvaldsen points out.

The safety researcher finds that both employees in the industry and representatives of the trade unions are advocating that such investigations must be carried out more regularly.

“Preventing work-related absence and dropouts in the industry is in everyone’s interest. We believe that updated reports are valuable for the continuous HSE work carried out by farming companies, shipping companies, suppliers and authorities,” she says.

Through the survey, researchers can map what has happened since the previous survey in 2016. It has also been a goal to gain insight into the interaction between independent shipping companies and farming companies, she explains.

Many of the participants in the survey are employed in companies that are external service providers to the fish farming companies.

The survey reveals that a full 66% of these believe that insufficient cooperation with the actual companies is a threat to safety.

An equally large proportion believe that the farming companies’ demands for efficiency mean that they sometimes have to break safety procedures.

For all the respondents taken together, the HSE says it is worth noting that half have been away from work due to illness or injury in the past year, with 17% answering that the illness or injury that kept them away was work-related. Some, in fact, were absent for six weeks or more.

The report is part of a larger project, which also deals with the analysis of accident statistics, which shows that the occupational injury and death rate in the aquaculture industry is high compared to other industries.