Nova Scotia's fishing industry continues to be the deadliest workplace in the province because health and safety are not priorities, a legislature committee heard Wednesday.

Stuart MacLean, the CEO of the Workers' Compensation Board of Nova Scotia, said although the number of workplace deaths is down so far this year, two of the three people killed on the job worked in the fishery.

MacLean told a legislature committee that has to change.

"We see an industry that's struggling with high levels of fatality and also severe injury and a high frequency of injury," said MacLean.

"To me the fundamental thing that we can do differently in that sector is to embrace health and safety as a priority."

MacLean said he's pleased there have been fewer deaths this year than last, but it's no reason to celebrate.

"In 2013 we had 17 acute fatalities that happened as a result of something that took place in the workplace — eight of those were in the fishing sector. This year, we've had three acute fatalities and two of them were in the fishing sector, to date," he said.

"We see that happening on a regular frequency. You don't have to look any further than the granite monuments in all of our communities to recognize that this is a systemic and fundamental problem."


Recorded acute fatalities in Nova Scotia (Jan. 1, 2011 to Sept. 3, 2014)

  • Fishing: 14
  • Construction: 8
  • Retail Trade: 3
  • Government Services: 1
  • Transportation/Storage: 4
  • Logging/Forestry: 1
  • Agriculture/Related Services: 2
  • Communication/Utilities: 1
  • Unclassified: 1

Of the eight people who died in the fishery last year, five were in a single incident.

They were crew members of the Miss Ally — a fishing boat that was hit with an enormous wall of water that was churned up during a storm in February 2013.

The boat capsized and the bodies of crew members Billy Jack Hatfield, Joel Hopkins, Katlin Nickerson, Steven Cole Nickerson and Tyson Townsend were never recovered.

'They make money'

MacLean told members of the legislature's Public Accounts Committee that forestry work was once the most dangerous type of work, but the industry has managed to turn that around by making safety a priority.

Suzanne Lohnes-Croft, a Liberal committee member, said she thinks part of the problem is the high cost of safety gear.

"The cost of fishing is very expensive, your licence is expensive, your boat, everything that goes along with fishing is expensive including safety equipment," said Lohnes-Croft.

"A lot of them are using expired equipment, old equipment. There's better equipment but it comes at a cost."

Lohnes-Croft said she'd like to see the provincial government help fishermen who are cash-strapped be able to buy or upgrade their safety gear.

"I would like to see a program myself to help those who really are struggling," she said.

"Some are more capable of making ends meet than others and I think it would have to be determined on a needs basis."

But MacLean doesn't agree money is standing in the way of safety.

"The cost of safety equipment, life-jackets and life-rafts is not the issue here. They have payrolls. They catch lots of fish. They make money," he said.

"Every employer must create a safe work environment with the things they have control over."