A new set of guidelines, agreed jointly by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO), will improve the process of undertaking medical examination of fishers worldwide.

A joint meeting held from 12 to 16 February 2024 in Geneva, Switzerland brought together members of both organizations, along with government officials and representatives of fishing vessel owners, fishers and non-governmental agencies to finalize the guidelines, which will contribute to the improved health and safety of fishers, and help to reduce fishing sector accidents and fatalities.

The outcome of the meeting will be submitted to the IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee for approval in May 2024, as well as to the Governing Body of the ILO in November 2024.

Fishing provides one of the world’s most important and nutritious sources of food.  Work on fishing vessels is strenuous and includes catching and often processing fish in the challenging marine environment. Fishers work and live at sea for days, weeks, months and even years at a time, in close quarters, and often far from access to immediate medical care.  Many work on fishing vessels flying the flag of countries other than their home country.  All need to undergo appropriate medical examination to ensure they are healthy and fit for their jobs.

The guidelines will support medical practitioners and authorities 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.

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The IMO will introduce a similar requirement through its upcoming and newly developed Code of the International Convention on the Standards of Training and Certification of Watchkeeping of Fishing Vessel Personnel (STCW-F).

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 heating standards, physical capability requirements, fitness criteria for medication use and common medical conditions, formats for recording medical examinations and medical certificates.  They also address 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. The meeting requested the ILO to develop guidance on this subject through a tripartite consultation process with the IMO and others, drawing on principles set out in ILO occupational safety and health instruments as well work that has 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 concerning the fundamental right to a safety and health working environment.

Subject to decisions of relevant IMO and ILO governing bodies, the guidelines for medical examination of fishers will be widely disseminated by the two Organizations.


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Issue 89 of Robban Assafina

(Jan./ Feb. 2024)


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