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Fishing sector

New guidelines on medical examination of fishers adopted by the International Labour Organization and International Maritime Organization

The crew of fishing vessels need to be medically fit for their physically demanding work. New medical examination guidelines will improve and standardize these examinations, leading to improved health and safety in the fishing sector.

News | 22 February 2024
© Victor Libuku / ILO
GENEVA (ILO News) – A new set of guidelines, adopted at a joint meeting of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO), will improve the medical examination process of fishers.

Work on fishing vessels is strenuous and includes catching and processing fish in a challenging environment. Fishers work and live at sea for extended periods, even years, in close quarters, often far from access to immediate medical care. Many work on fishing vessels that fly a flag of countries other than their home country. All need to undergo appropriate medical examinations to ensure they are healthy and fit for their work, which yields one of the world’s most important and nutritious food sources.

The new guidelines will support medical practitioners and authorities in conducting examinations, in line with the ILO’s Work in Fishing Convention, 2007 (No. 188), which requires fishers to hold a medical certificate attesting to their fitness. The IMO will introduce a similar requirement through its upcoming revised Code of the International Convention on the Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Fishing Vessel Personnel.

The guidelines refer to the relevant international legal instruments. They provide guidance for competent authorities and for persons recognized by competent authorities to conduct medical examinations and to issue medical certificates. They set out vision and hearing standards, physical capability requirements, fitness criteria for medication use and common medical conditions, formats for recording medical examinations and medical certificates. They also address matters such as the frequency and conduct of examinations, the right to privacy, and appeals procedures if a certificate is denied.

In addition to the medical examination guidelines, the tripartite meeting of representatives of governments, fishing vessel owners and fishers noted the importance of fisher’s occupational health surveillance programmes. They requested the ILO develop guidance on this subject through a tripartite consultation process and with the IMO and others, drawing on principles set out in ILO occupational safety and health instruments, as well as work that is already being undertaken by social partners and maritime medical experts.

The tripartite meeting took note of the ILO’s Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, which was amended in 2022 to specify that all ILO Member States have an obligation to respect, promote and realize the newly added principle on the fundamental right to a safe and healthy working environment.

The outcome of the meeting will be submitted to the IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee in May 2024 and the Governing Body of the ILO in November 2024. Subject to their decisions, it will be widely disseminated by the two Organizations. The guidelines will contribute to the improved health and safety of fishers, and by doing so will also help reduce fishing sector accidents and fatalities.