Improving safety culture in the fishing industry

This video from Nova Scotia is sad but promising. My eyes brimmed with tears as I listened to the sad stories of loved ones left behind. And I also felt encouraged to see people who are changing their ways and working more safely in response to the loss.

Here in BC, WorkSafeBC officers are promoting use of personal flotation devices (PFDs) or more protective, traditional life jackets when necessary, along with other strategies for keeping crews safe and in compliance with legal requirements including Regulation Part 24 Diving, Fishing, and Other Marine Operations.

In our province, between 1975 and 2012, 164 fishing vessels capsized with 68 lives lost.

Pat Olsen is WorkSafeBC’s Regional Prevention Manager, based in Courtenay, BC, on Vancouver Island, home to much commercial fishing (not to mention the many people on the water for transport and recreation).

I asked Pat what BC’s fishing safety advocates are doing to encourage use of PFDs and general improvement in safety for workers on the water.

“I cannot say enough about the work FishSAFE has been doing to promote the use of PFDs, and its ‘Real Fisherman‘ campaign,” Pat said.

He’s talking about a poster series that reminds me of those firemen’s calendars that we buy my mom for Christmas every year! It shows a bunch of big, handsome guys – “real men” – wearing life jackets/PFDs in the hopes of encouraging others to do the same.

“It’s excellent, but still not enough to change the culture, which of course is a generational thing,” Pat said. “I always find it interesting that parents of young children are insistent that their kids where PFDs or a life jacket when around the water or on boats, but at some point (I think when the child demonstrates they can swim) they stop making them wear them. This is a societal culture that needs to change.”

Pat says WorkSafeBC officers inspect and/or talk with fishing employers on the dock and at sea. They also talk about cold water shock, which I wrote about in my post Cold water shock can kill.

“This gives a very good picture of PFD use (or non-use in most cases),” Pat said. “They explain claim stats and talk in generalities about incidents WorkSafeBC has investigated. This paints a pretty dramatic picture of what happens when you fall overboard without a PFD/life jacket… They talk about how cold water affects the human body, and explain that even if you are an Olympic swimmer, you still have a VERY limited time to help yourself if you end up in the water, which is made even worse if you are fighting just to stay afloat. This is where using a PFD can really help.”

Pat suggests Cold water bootcamp as a good source of information on how quickly our bodies are affected by cold.

He praises the Kids Don’t Float campaign that offers ‘loaner’ PFDs provided at wharves and docks for children. Every year, an average of 525 Canadians die needlessly in water-related incidents, reports the Canadian Red Cross in Drowning Research Information.

See WorkSafeBC’s Commercial Fishing portal for more information on safety on and near the water.


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