By Tina Comeau
Years ago fishermen complained they were too bulky. Too hot. Uncomfortable.
And, many felt, not needed.
But efforts are ongoing to convince fishermen that PFDs, or personal floatation devices, are not the enemy.
By law PFDs are required to be on a fishing vessel and anywhere else where there is a risk of drowning. But sometimes getting fishermen to wear PFDs while they’re working can be a different story.
Some will. Some won’t.
Stewart Franck, the executive director of the Fisheries Safety Association of Nova Scotia, says in the past fishermen had a valid argument. PFDs were bulky and they were uncomfortable. But advancements have made them more user friendly. And it seems to be working to make them more appealing.
“There are floatation devices that are smaller, lighter, that can be used while you’re working. They're being used a lot more now than they were in the past,” says Franck. “So the message is getting out there.”
However, often the message comes on the heels of a tragedy.
Neil d’Entremont, the Pubnico, N.S. store manager of Vernon d’Eon Lobster Plugs Ltd., says the recent drowning of a Wedgeport, N.S. fisherman has triggered interest in PFDs.
“When an accident like this happens it seems to put a push on it. More people come in looking for them,” he says. “It’s a shame that it takes a tragedy like that to open their eyes.”
One product that d’Entremont notes as being very popular is Float-Tech – a jacket with a PFD built into it. The sleeves of the jacket can be removed and there is also the option of just wearing the PFD bladder (the part that inflates), which is in the form of a vest. The bladder alone sells for $220 plus tax. As an entire jacket it sells for $350 plus tax.
Franck says there are also PFDs that are worn as an un-inflated collar. They can be manually inflated or they automatically inflate when a fisherman hits, or goes below, the water.
“We need to continue to educate people that they can prevent these types of injuries, there are things that they can do and a responsibility that they can take to protect themselves,” Franck says.
His association is working to deliver this message in conjunction with the Workers Compensation Board, the Department of Labour and the Nova Scotia Fisheries Sector Council. A communications campaign is also part of spreading the word. Franck says they’re also getting fishermen to work with manufacturers and suppliers to identify, in their opinion, what works and what doesn’t. What’s good and what’s not?
And while enforcement is another area that could see a heavier push, Franck says a large part of the onus when it comes to safety falls on the shoulders of the fishing industry itself.
He admits a PFD won’t save a life in every instance. But at the very least if you can’t bring a person back home alive, maybe you can still bring them back home.
“And that can mean a lot,” he says.
It’s also important for fishing vessels to have a rescue plan in place because it’s one thing to find a person in the water, it’s another thing to get them back onto the boat. And having proper, working safety equipment onboard is also important.
Another thing Franck says that needs to change is the attitude that things won’t happen because they haven’t yet.
Or that it’s an acceptable risk.
“We need to change that,” he says. “That’s a big boat to turn around.”