Physical hazards for migrant fishermen may lead to long-term issues

TAIPEI (The China Post) —  What should hardworking migrant fishermen do if they get sick or hurt?

Rerum Novarum Center (新事社會服務中心) social worker Jason Lee (李正新) explained that the simple question becomes much harder for those who are not fluent in Chinese and are usually reliant on over-the-counter drugs that they brought from their home country to relieve symptoms.

In order to take care of the fishermen, the Rerum Novarum Center and the Department of Environmental and Occupational Medicine of National Taiwan University Hospital recently launched a free mobile clinic to conduct health examinations and raise awareness towards occupational injuries.

During the examinations, Lee observed that many migrant fishermen had white fingernails, which worried him as he thought it indicated they were suffering from hidden diseases in relation to working seaside.

When he asked the migrant workers about their fingernails, he found that each and every one of their jobs was mainly fishing for crabs, which was different from other migrant fishermen who had otherwise, normal nails.

Lee remarked that the reason behind the peculiar nail color needs further observation and diagnosis.

Aside from noticing the whitening of fingernails among some fishermen, doctors also measured the height, weight, and blood pressure of the fishermen during the free examinations, and asked about their living habits and work description.

The purpose is to have them describe whatever discomfort they may have and determine whether or not they will cause harm to their bodies in the long run, maybe even leading to occupational hazards.

For example, when a fisherman describes his thigh pain, the doctor will ask in detail which leg hurts, how often it hurts, when it hurts, what posture leads to it hurting, and so on.

These injuries may appear to just be a little sore for the fishermen, but they may also affect their movements at work.

The injuries also have one thing in common — the fisherman who experienced them usually does not seek medical help for the ailments.

There are many possible reasons for these results, Lee said. It may be that the fishermen feel that as long as it does not directly affect their lives, they do not need to see a doctor.

Another possible reason is that when you seek medical treatment by yourself, you are hindered by language problems; it is more likely that the fisherman will describe his physical pain to his employer and hope that the employer would take him to the doctor.

However, more often than not, the seeking of medical help is always delayed ultimately leading to the fisherman having to relieve his symptoms on his own.

These wounds may gradually become a kind of occupational hazard over time, but by then, the injury may be too severe to treat, making it irreparable.

During the medical treatment rounds, Lee and the doctors asked questions about injuries they sustained during work, and some fishermen explained their physical ailments.

Some described accidentally rolling their fingers into fishing lines when throwing them off fishing boats, resulting in the amputation of a finger.

Others also described falling and getting bruised when they encounter wind and waves on fishing boats, leaving a deep scar.

Many also hinted that their eyesight may be damaged as special lights used for fishing at night may cause irreparable damage in the long run.

Boats are often equipped with more than a dozen of these lights, which are used to illuminate fish in the sea but can also cause damage to the fishermen.

Some fishermen whose main job was to catch crabs began showing signs of discolored fingernails. (Photo courtesy of Rerum Novarum Center)

In fact, fishermen employed in Taiwan are protected by the ” Labor Standards Act” (勞動基準法) and can have labor insurance.

Therefore, when encountering occupational hazards, they can ask for benefits or even disability benefits like local laborers, but these fishermen may not know and usually, those around them often neglect to inform them of their rights.

Through care and these free clinical assistance, migrant fishermen are one step closer to relieving their physical pain without too much hassle and understanding their symptoms.