NT: safety alert over marine infections following fatality

Thursday 20 July, 2017

NT WorkSafe recently issued a safety alert over managing infections caused by marine organisms such as bacteria while working in the marine fishing and aquaculture industries.

The alert was issued following an incident in which a trap fisherman died from complications arising from staphylococcal sepsis (blood poisoning) two days after returning from a three week fishing trip.

The worker experienced pain and swelling for a week, and kept to his bed for a couple of days before the vessel returned to port.

He had small infections (pustules) on a left hand finger and left foot toe. On return to port, he presented to Royal Darwin Hospital in a confused state, with fevers, chills, back pain as well as generalised aches and pains.

The alert said there were a number of contributing factors to the fatality, including:

  • Likely received small nicks/cuts to his hand and feet whilst working with the traps.
  • Breaks in the skin provided an entry point for bacteria to enter the body.
  • Lack of knowledge/awareness of potential for serious infection from open wounds.
  • Poor management/first aid of skin breaks to reduce risk of infections.
  • Professional medical advice was not requested or sought.

The alert subsequently recommended a number of actions:

  • Ensure workers wear personal protective equipment – (aprons, gloves, gumboots) to guard against nicks, cuts and scratches
  • Provide sufficient information, instruction and training for new workers, including the dangers arising from not managing marine infections effectively
  • Provide information, instruction and training for Skippers to ensure appropriate first aid treatment is provided, and professional medical advice is sought when appropriate.
  • Ensure the vessel’s safety management system includes contact details for a medical practitioner. Some options are: 1800 641 792 (Marine Search and Rescue – if life threatening) and 1800 022 222 (Health Direct Australia – national free service)