Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Deadliest Blog Post

Living near and working at Seattle's Fisherman's Terminal, I hear a lot about The Discovery Channel's program Deadliest Catch. Any fishing vessel moored here that ever had anything to do with the show advertises the fact with a banner or sign on its side, tour buses drive through several times a day, and the word deadliest appears everywhere, from restaurant signs to bumper stickers. But gallows humor and shameless opportunism aside, how deadly is working at sea?

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, "fishers and related fishing workers" do indeed have the highest death rate of any American workers, suffering nearly 112 fatalities for every 100,000 workers. Loggers place second (86 per 100,000) followed by aircraft pilots and flight engineers (67 per 100,000). The BLS reports on civilian deaths only, but a recent military report put the death rate for all US active-duty military personnel at 73 per 100,000 for the period 2004-2007. In combat specialities, military personnel have more than twice the death rate of commercial fishermen.

In terms of actual civilian deaths, truckers and other drivers fared the worst (in 2007, where all my numbers come from), with more than 900 deaths, followed by farmers and ranchers with 285. There were 38 deaths among fisherman in the same period but, of course, there are a lot fewer of them than either truckers or farmers.

About 65 percent of US mariner deaths in 2007 were in the fishing or towing industries. According to the latest US Coast Guard Marine Safety Performance Plan, "(m)ore than three-quarters of commercial mariner deaths and injuries are accounted for by incidents where the initial event is a personnel injury, such as falling overboard or being struck by an object." Most of the rest are caused by either a vessel casualty of some kind (a grounding, loss of steering, etc.) or a "material failure."

Going to sea has always been dangerous. Of the more than 200 men that set out to sail around the world with Ferdinand Magellan, only 18 made it home three years later. In modern times, more than 8600 civilian merchant mariners died in World War II, more than half again the death rate of the US Marines and twice that of the army. 

Find the Bureau of Labor Statistics report mentioned above at http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/cfoi.pdf

For Kelly Kennedy's Army Times report on the military death rate sudy, see http://www.armytimes.com/news/2009/06/military_deaths_active_duty_061609w/

The Coast Guard's Marine Safety Performance Plan 2009-2014 can be found at http://www.uscg.mil/hq/cg5/cg54/docs/MSPerformancePlan.pdf

Some good background on the US Merchant Marine and its service during WWII and subsequent struggle for veterans status is at http://train.missouri.org/~emgeer/merchantmarine.html


  1. Great post. I have always been fascinated with these stats, as I have always been on the wrong side of the odds. First job- farm worker, second job- USMC infantry, 3rd job- crab fisherman, hobby- woodworker. I awaken every morning and check for wounds! All kidding aside, safety at sea should never be ignored. Stay safe out there and take information gleened from these various maritime blogs and apply it to the real world you are sailing in out there. Keep up the good writing Capt. Earle

  2. I haven't forgotten police and fire fighters. For some reason, the BLS reports lumps them in with all government workers, although those two occupations are by far the highest subgroup within that category. In terms of actual deaths, "government workers" rank fourth. Unfortunately, both police officers and fire fighters saw huge percentage increases in death in 2007 over 2006 (32 and 43 percent respectively).