New PFD regulations improve crewmember safety on fishing vessels

To prevent drowning, crewmembers on B.C. fishing vessels are now required to wear PFDs or lifejackets whenever they are on the deck. 

Photo of a fishing boat with snow-covered mountains in the background

Photo credit: iStock.com/mscornelius

Fishing is a unique occupation with safety concerns unlike any other.

“The reality of working on a commercial fishing vessel will never change, in terms of the risk of working on the water,” says Ryan Ford, program manager of Fish Safe. “You’re always having to deal with unique risks that people working in offices or on land don’t have to think about.”

Across Canada, there were 63 fishing vessel fatalities from 2011 to 2017, according to the Transportation Safety Board of Canada. The biggest safety risk to fishing crews is drowning, most often from falling overboard or being in a vessel that capsizes.

To better protect these workers, WorkSafeBC amended parts of the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation that apply to fishing crews. The amendments took effect on June 3, 2019.

Previously, crewmembers were only required to wear PFDs or lifejackets when there was a risk of drowning. Now, they have to wear them whenever they are on the deck of a fishing vessel. (For full details, see WorkSafeBC’s Regulatory amendment: A primer on personal flotation devices and lifejackets.)

Says Ryan: “For many years, fishermen in B.C. have known the importance of wearing PFDs and lifejackets. This new change puts the importance of PFDs even more front and centre in their minds.”

Training also key to crewmember safety

While PFDs and lifejackets greatly improve crewmembers’ chances of survival in the water at sea, they are not the only safety precautions needed. Training is also important. And there are risks that commercial fishermen need to manage before they untie from the wharf and head out fishing.

“Wearing a PFD does not guarantee survival in and of itself,” Ryan says. “What are you doing to ensure that an individual doesn’t end up going overboard? And if that situation were to occur, whether they’re wearing a PFD or not, how are you going to get that person back on board?”

For more resources about PFDs and commercial fishing safety, see On deck? Put it on from WorkSafeBC, and Fish Safe’s Safest Catch Program. Also see my post Real-life stories from survivors remind us to use PFDs.

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