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NT: Safety alert issued over sea snake bites in the fishing & aquaculture industry

Wednesday, 28 November, 2018 - 12:45
Policy & legislation
National News
Northern Territory

NT WorkSafe recently issued a safety alert on the risk of sea snake bites to workers in the fishing and aquaculture industry, following an incident in which a worker on board a prawn trawler operating in the Gulf of Carpentaria died after being bitten on the hand by a sea snake.

At the time of the incident, the worker was folding the emptied trawl nets as the nets were being lowered by a hoist. The snake was still in the nets when the worker was bitten. The snake was picked up and thrown overboard by a co-worker.

The bitten worker said to co-workers he was fine, and therefore there was a short delay before he was immobilised, first aid applied and emergency evacuation requested. The worker died later that day.

The safety alert said there were a number of contributing factors to the incident:

  • The snake was still entangled in the nets as it was being folded for storage.
  • The worker was not wearing any personal protective equipment (PPE) against potential sea snake bites or stings from other marine creatures.
  • The trawler’s safety management system did not include an appropriate procedure to manage the risk of snake bites or other marine stings.

Initial findings indicate a level of complacency towards the dangers of sea snakes within the fishing and aquaculture industry, with workers routinely handling sea snakes without PPE to throw the snakes back overboard.

A contributing factor may be the mistaken belief that sea snake fangs are located at the back of the mouth, or down the throat resulting in only ‘dry bites’ (bites without venom).

The alert recommended a number of required actions:

  • Visually inspect all nets for venomous or toxic marine creatures before handling the nets.
  • Review the use of PPE, including wear puncture resistant gloves for tasks where there is a risk of contact with marine creatures with toxic or venomous stings or bites – such as handling nets.
  • All seas snakes are venomous and all bites should be treated as a medical emergency. If a worker is bitten, immobilise and apply a snake bandage followed by additional immobilisation of the bitten limb with a splint to slow the spread of the venom. Maintaining immobilisation is the most critical part of first aid.
  • Arrange for emergency medical evacuation.
  • Review your vessels safety management systems and make sure it includes emergency procedures for sea snake bites or stings by other marine creatures.
  • Review worker induction processes and make sure all workers are aware of dangers of sea snakes (and other marine stingers), and how to manage them.
  • Ensure your vessel has snake hooks or grabbers for handling and removal of sea snakes. DO NOT handle sea snakes by hand.
  • Ensure the first aid kit is stocked with specialised snake bandages.
  • Ensure all crew members are trained in applying a snake bandage and immobilisation and practice regularly.