Time to change maritime safety behavior in the commercial fishing industry

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada published a blog post by Glenn Budden, a Senior Investigator for their agency titled “Time to change maritime safety behavor” in the commercial fishing industry.  His insights are particularly informative because Mr. Budden owned and operated a commercial fishing business.

Falling overboard is the second leading cause of deaths on commercial fishing vessels in Canada. In British Columbia, 40% of the individuals that died on a commercial fishing vessel since 2004 were not wearing a Personal Flotation Device (PFD) despite the fact that PFDs are legally required for individuals “employed under conditions which involve a risk of drowning.”

Mr. Budden uses the loss of life on the fishing vessel DIANE LOUISE to illustrate his point.  The report on the DIANE LOUISE is at this link.

The key point that he makes is that commercial fishermen are keenly aware that they are engaged in a risky business – and they accept that risk – but in the case of the DIANE LOUISE they did not manage it.

Wearing a PFD on a commercial fishing vessel should become the normal practice.  Just as I do not feel comfortable driving my car without my seat belt on – so to must crewmembers become uncomfortable going on deck without their PFD.

However, Mr. Budden correctly states that “Any efforts to improve safety and eliminate unsafe behaviours in commercial fishing have to be made in consideration of the difficult operating environment and must be tailored to work within that context”. In the United States that may mean that the type of a PFD that works for a fisherman in Alaska may not work for a fisherman in the Gulf of Mexico because it is just too hot.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has worked for several years to identify PFDs that fishermen will be comfortable using in various marine environments and some manufacturers have begun adapting their products for those regional conditions.  I will write a blog on that topic in the near future.

In the meantime, Mr. Budden’s entire blog titled “Time to change maritime safety behavor” can be found at this link.


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