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Occupational safety and health in the aquaculture industry – a global review

Aquaculture, the farming of aquatic organisms (including fish, molluscs, crustaceans, and aquatic plants), is the fastest growing food sector in the world. It occurs in all regions, across all economic settings, from artisanal to multi-national, in all environments and even where water is a scarce commodity. Aquaculture production is projected to reach 109 metric tonnes in 2030, an increase of 32% over 2018.

20 million people are directly employed in aquaculture with another 60 million in downstream seafood occupations. There is a wide range of occupational activities that reflects the diverse forms of aquaculture, from basic labouring to seafaring to technical to managerial.

This report identifies a set of indicators that influence occupational safety and health (OSH) in aquaculture. It looks at the evidence for OSH incidents in the global aquaculture industry and on the effectiveness of interventions to reduce such incidents. It reviews some of the latest published literature on OSH in this sector and uses a set of desk top country reviews to help identify the role of different indicators and their importance.

While many studies have focused on the environmental impacts of aquaculture, and more recently an increase in attention on social issues such as child and bonded labour, by comparison there has been less attention on OSH risks to aquaculture workers, particularly for low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).

A 2017 FAO project separated OH&S outcomes into two groups: occupational diseases and disorders and injury-causing accidents. Musculoskeletal disorders were by far the most common, followed by respiratory disorders, which may indicate greater exposure to various chemicals during bath treatments of stock. The main injuries were caused by falls (including slips) and object blows. Net entanglement and skin injuries were also fairly common incidents.

The research identifies stark differences in the availability of OSH information associated with aquaculture across geographic regions.

Some regions, typified by a higher development status, have comprehensive OSH systems applicable across all work sectors and some have progressed implementing and reporting tools specific to their aquaculture sectors. Other regions have far less mature and identifiable frameworks and scant or no available data for evaluating the performance of OSH in aquaculture. Where reporting is evident, data is often amalgamated and not sector specific.

The lack of comparative data leads to the report’s recommendation for the development of a comprehensive framework for evaluating and reporting the current status of OSH in aquaculture that can be applied consistently at country, regional and / or aquaculture systems level. This would require an international approach with multi-stakeholder and disciplinary inputs.

Such a framework is essential in the creation of an evidence based collection system. It can operate as a benchmark process and allow OSH performance to be measured consistently. Overtime, it would allow the impact and success of intervention programmes to be measured against standardised performance metrics for OSH.

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