Pushing safety in the fishing industry

Tina Comeau tcomeau@thevanguard.ca
Published on August 20, 2014

By Tina Comeau




It’s not just enough for fishermen to know about safety, they have to care about it too.

This is part of the ongoing message industry partners are spreading in a sector that sees high rates of fatalities and injuries.

“These vibrant communities . . . this pride-rich tradition needs to be protected,” says Stuart MacLean, CEO of the Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) of Nova Scotia. “You don’t go to work to get hurt. You go to work to provide a living for your family and to come home.”

Last year saw many tragedies in the fishing industry. There were eight fishing deaths in this province in 2013, representing half of the province’s total number of acute workplace fatalities. As of Aug. 19, there had been two deaths in the industry in 2014.

MacLean says it is important not only to prevent industry fatalities and injuries, but to learn from them as well.

It is also important to ensure a culture of safety exists, whereby captains stress to their crews that safety and best practices are paramount on a vessel, and everyone – captains and crewmembers – partake in ways to keep themselves safe.

To further advance the message of safety within the fishing industry, some man overboard safety demonstrations were held at the Wedgeport Breakwater Wharf on Aug. 19. The demos were held prior to the send-off of boats in this year’s Wedgeport Tuna Tournament.

The NSCC School of Fisheries is a key player in this type of safety training and was involved in the drills. It has been doing such training all over the province for years.

Other partners in this initiative included local fishermen, their families and community members; tuna tournament event organizers, the Nova Scotia Department of Labour and Advanced Education, the Fisheries Safety Association of Nova Scotia and the Nova Scotia Fisheries Sector Council.

Crew aboard the fishing vessel Beverly Ann participated in the drills that included a variety of scenarios, including different methods for getting a person – both conscious and unconscious – back onto a vessel and how to get a person safely back on board if you’re a crew of multiple people, or a of just one or two people left on the boat. Beverly Ann captain Cory Nickerson said these drills are very useful.

“It makes your spur-of-the-moment instincts come into play and figure out exactly what to do at the right time, especially the last drill where you’re alone. The man overboard is really heavy,” he says.

Whether fishermen practice these drills themselves or talk about such situations, it is important to have a plan should the need arise.

Another important message always being delivered is the need for fishermen to wear PFDs (personal floatation devices).

“PFDs are the law. You have to wear a PFD when you’re operating in the fishing sector, a lot of people don’t know that,” MacLean says, adding there is a lot more variety in PFDs and they continue to work with manufacturers and industry in developing prototypes.

 “People from this area have helped us to try and figure out what are the problems,” he says, explaining they’ve looked at ways so tabs don’t get stuck in fishing gear, and the PFDs don’t ride up on the neck when working. They’ve also looked at ways to make them more lightweight. Some PFDs will only inflate as soon as they come into contact with water.

“We’re still getting feedback from the fishermen and we continue to make modifications so the companies that produce them can continue to make PFDs that work for fishermen.

“Ultimately what we want is for them to come home to their families at the end of the day,” says MacLean about the overall safety push, and in particular the PFD push. “And even in the ultimate terrible situations when a body is lost at sea, at least we’re going to be able to return the body and these are things that mean a lot to the family.”

Meanwhile, earlier this year fishermen, their families, and communities were invited to help form the Safe at Sea Alliance and develop a Fishing Safety Action Plan to reduce fatalities and improve fishing safety. You can learn more about this ongoing initiative at www.SafeatSeaNS.ca.