(Canadian OH&S News) — Fatalities in British Columbia’s fishing sector have declined sharply over the past decade, according to new information from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB). Statistics from the board state that the west coast has seen an average of 2.33 deaths per year in its fishing industry since 2004 — a decline from 4.16 in previous years.
“We’re very encouraged by those kinds of numbers,” said Glenn Budden, the TSB’s senior marine investigator. “We’ve seen some really good signs in the initiatives going on across the country, including B.C., where we see safety improving.”
At the same time, Budden cautioned, the TSB has been concerned that its scale for measuring fishing safety may have been insufficient. “The numbers we’re using right now are fatality numbers,” he said, “but we’re not sure as an organization if that’s the best measure of fishing vessel safety.” He added that the fatality numbers across Canada were still relatively high. “There’s still one per month, on average.”
Budden credited public education and awareness of fishing safety as likely the top factor in B.C.’s improvement. In 2004, the province’s fishing sector established Fish SAFE, an industry-driven program for improving safety on commercial fishing vessels. Fish SAFE was Canada’s first fishing safety organization.
“The decline started with the implementation of Fish SAFE,” said Gina McKay, the organization’s program manager. “When we came on the scene, the number of capsizings was the main cause of fatalities in B.C. So we developed the Fish SAFE Stability Education Program.” McKay added that this program had led to a 44 per cent reduction in fishing fatalities.
Other programs that Fish SAFE has developed include the Real Fishermen Wear PFDs program, which spreads awareness of overboard falls and the lifesaving powers of personal flotation devices, and Safest Catch, which helps commercial fishers develop vessel-specific safety management systems.
“There’s not been a fatality from capsizing since 2008,” McKay said, adding that the organization’s main concern has since switched to overboard falls. “So falls overboard is sort of 50-50 on the cause of fatalities now, so that’s the real focus for us.”
Despite Fish SAFE’s efforts in B.C., the fishing sector remains a dangerous profession nationwide. Nova Scotia saw eight fatalities in the fishing industry in 2013, and fishers there are considered 34 times more likely to die by traumatic injury than other workers are.
“It’s a moving platform on a very deep ocean, with all kinds of moving parts on the boat,” said McKay, referring to the potential dangers aboard a fishing vessel. “Take your average workplace and put it on a rolling platform and see how everyone makes out with heavy equipment.”
Resource management may also have been a factor in B.C.’s improving situation, according to Budden. “They’ve taken fisheries management steps that have made the fisheries somewhat safer, giving the fishermen more options,” he said. “For instance, quota fisheries. So fishermen have some other options rather than to race for the fish.” As well, Transport Canada is in the process of changing fishing safety regulations with additional focus on fishing vessel stability requirements, he added.
Budden and McKay agreed that there has been a shifting attitude towards safety culture in B.C.’s fishing sector.
“It was just an accepted standard where, ‘Well, probably you’re going to get hurt fishing,’” McKay said about the culture prior to Fish SAFE. “Now, that’s changed, realizing that there are tools available, that you can actually come home safe.”
“I’ve heard it from the east coast especially,” Budden said, “Guys pass away and the fishermen want to know why and how come it happened. They want something done about it.
“That’s a very positive thing.”