Fishing Vessel Safety

The European Commission has published a Report analysing the implementation of two Health & Safety Directives: dealing with fishing vessels and medical treatment on board, respectively (the Directives are Council Directive 93/103/EC on safety requirements on board fishing vessels and Council Directive 92/29/EC on safety requirements for medical treatment on board vessels). The Report is based on Member State Reports and a study from independent experts, and is concerned solely with the situation in the EU-15, i.e. Member States that were part of the EU prior to enlargement in 2004.


The fishing sector suffers from one of the highest accident rates in the EU. Directives 93/103/EC and Directive 92/29/EEC were adopted with the aim of providing minimum health and safety requirements for workers in the industry.

Both Directives were however delayed in transposition. The Commission also believes that the fragmented structure of the fishing sector, weak trade union representation and the fact that fishermen are rarely available on land reduced the impact of awareness-raising campaigns.

The Commission is obliged to Report on the implementation of these Directives every five years.

Overall Findings of the Report  

The Commission says that accident statistics for the fishing sector were poor in most Member States. The Report also highlights the fact that only a small percentage of the total fishing fleet fell within the scope of Directive 93/103/EC, and therefore accidents were likely to be underestimated. Furthermore, Member States assessments of the impact of Directive 92/29/EEC were, in some cases, contradictory. The Commission considered the Directive’s effects to have been minimal. 

Assessments of Directive 93/103/EC

The Commission Report summarises positive assessments made by Member States of Directive 93/103/EC. These include:
•  Uniform minimum safety levels implemented in all Member States
• The fact that minimum safety and health rules specific to work on board fishing vessels has made monitoring easier for inspectors
•  Greater commitment to complying with national legislation in the area of prevention of risks at work
• Structured risk prevention systems implemented 
•  Practical provisions encouraged on the construction and equipment of fishing vessels
• Intensified professional debate within the sector
Member States found however the following difficulties with the implementation of Directive 93/103/EC:
• Additional support was still needed in view of the Directive’s technical complexity
• High cost of safety equipment for employers
• Owners of small vessels were reluctant to carry out risk assessments owing to the costs involved
• Risk assessments often a matter of filling in forms, with no impact on working conditions on board
• Lack of an integrated control and development plan for risk prevention policies in the maritime environment
• No formal procedures for cooperation between competent authorities
• Lack of enforcement of provisions to prevent occupational diseases
• Age of the fleet in some cases an obstacle to implementation

Assessments of Directive 92/29/EEC

The Commission Report also summarises positive assessments made by Member States of Directive 92/29/EEC. These include: 
•  Recognition of the need for compulsory medical monitoring of seafarers
• Improvement in medical treatment on board vessels
• Medical supplies are ensuring medical care on board
•  Inclusion of additional drugs in medical supplies (antidotes)
•  Medical supplies put to better use by the person responsible for medical care
•  More effective checks on medical suppliers, in particular as regards psychotropic drugs
• Refresher training at least every five years for workers to whom the use of the medical supplies is delegated, leading to an improvement in those persons' medical knowledge
The main problems with the implementation of Directive 92/29/EEC mentioned in Member States’ Reports were:
• Cost of purchasing and maintaining the new medical supplies
• Difficulty in securing supplies of certain medicines e.g. anti-malarial drugs
• Having drugs on board that should only be administered by a qualified doctor
• In the fishing industry, the medicine chest is used mostly for minor problems
• Setting up the radio medical centres, due to doctors being unfamiliar with the maritime environment, a lack of experience in radio communication technologies, and the infrequency of this type of emergency call
• In some sectors, doctors could be replaced on board by paramedics with special training

Small vessels  

The affect of the two Directives on small vessels was highlighted in the Report. Directive 93/103/EC does not apply to vessels of less than 15m in length, but between 60 % and 90 % of fleets are made up of vessels that are less than 12m in length. Furthermore, the independent experts’ report suggested that the high cost of safety equipment discouraged small ship-owners from acquiring it. Similar problems existed for the implementation of Directive 92/29/EEC. The medicines required on board under the Directive were considered suitable on large vessels, but posed a problem for medium-sized and small vessels.

Commission Conclusions

The Commission concludes that Directive 93/103/EC posed the greatest problem requiring certain changes in line with Member State and social partner’s suggestions:

• More information on accidents and cases of disease particularly recording less serious accidents and creating a list of frequent diseases and their causes
• The Commission wants the development of new systems for communicating particularly communication at grassroots level
• The Commission concentrates on the need for better training, adapted to fishermen profiles and possibilities and not just in the event of maritime disasters
• The Commission also calls on Member States to improve inspections. The Commission suggests that national labour inspectorates could focus on the sector and cooperate with other inspectorates
• In regards to small vessels the Commission felt that extending the scope of the Directive to bring these vessels under the Directive might lead to an in increase costs for small vessels. The Commission therefore suggests drawing up a practical, non-binding guide for vessels under 15m in length at EU level.