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Nova Scotia premier proposes day to remember workers lost at sea

HALIFAX (Canadian OH&S News)


HALIFAX (Canadian OH&S News)

Those who have lost their lives sailing the high seas will have a day dedicated to their memories, if a recent proposal from the Nova Scotia government gets approval.

In his throne speech on March 26, Premier Darrell Dexter proposed that the provincial government devote the Mariners Day Act in part to those lost after the Miss Ally crew went missing at sea after the vessel sank in a storm near the end of February.

“Communities like Wood Harbour know that the ocean provides bountiful abundance but can exact a terrible toll,” Dexter told the legislature. “Just 40 days have passed since five young fishers — Katlin Nickerson, Billy Jack Hatfield, Joel Hopkins, Steven Cole Nickerson and Tyson Townsend — were lost when the Miss Ally capsized in the stormy sea. Those young men sought only to make a living and support their families.”

The fisheries and aquaculture minister, Sterling Belliveau, explained that the day would serve as a reminder of the dangers of the high seas.

“Fishing is one of the most dangerous occupations in Nova Scotia. Crews often find themselves far out at sea when a storm or rogue wave hits,” Belliveau said. “In addition to working in a small space with fast-moving equipment, fishers are used to battling cold weather, high winds and high seas in order to make a living. This is truly a way of life for many men and a growing number of women. Just four months into 2013 and 10 lives have been lost to workplace accidents — seven of those have been fishermen.

“We acknowledge that fishing will always be dangerous, but we can and we must make safety a priority.”

Working in the northern Atlantic, especially during the winter months, comes with inherent risks, said Stewart Franck, the executive director of the Fisheries Safety Association, in Yarmouth, N.S. That includes heavy manual lifting, wet and slippery conditions, fast-paced work, moving equipment, sharp edges, ropes, lines, cables, hoists and pulleys that carry the risk of entanglement, fatigue, the risk of falls from heights and into water, ergonomic issues, and risks of strains, sprains and fractures.

“Now, imagine working in this environment while standing on a moving Tilt-a-Whirl at the local carnival in gale force winds and you will come close [to a fisher’s job],” he explains, adding that he hopes the day will prompt change and “will be taken by the fishing industry as a call to action to implement improvements on their own to prevent all drowning and loss at sea.”

The Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture has started to work with those in the fishing industry to tackle safety concerns, such as improving personal flotation devices that can be worn while working long hours on a vessel.

But for Franck, there is still more work to be done.

“Multiple government departments and agencies prescribe standards respecting the health and safety of the vessel and crew,” he said. “This year we will be involved with wharf-side displays, exhibits and exercises such as personal flotation devices, man-overboard drills and emergency preparedness. The culture is slowly beginning to change toward a prevention mindset, but there is an awful lot of work that needs to be done by all parties involved and affected in order to get to where it is no longer acceptable to have such needless loss of life.”

A specific date for the proposed memorial day has yet to be set.

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