Make commercial fishermen wear flotation devices, says investigator of capsizing

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada is urging the New Brunswick government and WorkSafeNB to require personal flotation devices to be worn on all commercial fishing vessels.

Minister plans talks with fishing industry after report on capsizing that left 2 men dead

People gathered on the Miller Brook Wharf near Bathurst after two lobster fishermen died in June of 2016. (Bridget Yard/CBC)

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada is urging the New Brunswick government and WorkSafeNB to require personal flotation devices to be worn on all commercial fishing vessels.

The recommendation was contained in a report released Wednesday on the capsizing of a lobster boat in the Bay of Chaleur last year that left two fishermen dead.

Darren Cole, 45, from Bathurst and Garnet Dickson, 67, from Salmon Beach died when their boat capsized off Salmon Beach, near Bathurst.

The safety board's report said the crew members were not wearing personal flotation devices or life jackets when the boat capsized, "which diminished their chance of survival" when they fell overboard.

There are different kinds of personal flotation devices, with different degrees of buoyancy and abilities to flip people into a face-up position and keep them that way, and to protect wearers in different water conditions.

WorkSafe NB's Manon Arsenault said there are provisions under the province's Occupational Health and Safety Act regarding PFDs. However, fishing vessels are not covered by that legislation.

New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island are the only two provinces in Canada that do not formally consider commercial fishing under their occupational and healthy safety regulations. 

"In nearly every other industry across Canada, provincial health and safety regulations set out rules to reduce the risks and promote a safe and healthy work environment," board member Joseph Hincke said in a statement. "Commercial fishing, however, is not always included. This needs to change.

"We want to see federal and provincial governments work with leaders in the fishing community, to help ensure everyone can and does work safely."

Donald Arseneault, minister of post-secondary education, training and labour, told CBC on Wednesday that ensuring employees are wearing PFDs at critical moments is a simple solution.

Arseneault said the province is responsible for work safety, and the province will be talking to people in the industry to come up with a formal solution in the next 90 days.

Fatal accident

A 911 call was received at about 5:15 a.m. on June 16, 2016.

According to the board, the vessel Marie Ellie 1 rescued a deckhand straddling the keel of the  capsized vessel C19496NB, which was only 240 metres offshore when it got into trouble near Salmon Beach.

The Transportation Safety Board pinpointed the location of the capsized lobster boat as 0.5 nautical miles west of Miller's Brook Wharf. (Google maps)

The accident happened as the three crew members were hauling in lobster traps. When a line became entangled in gear, the right rear of the boat was pulled downward.

Then two large waves, and multiple shifts in weight as the boat's hauler mechanism pulled the traps up, brought water onto the deck, the board said.

The master of the boat ordered the senior deckhand to release the trap line from the hauler to avoid more water spilling over the boat.

Before the line could be released, a third wave broke against the vessel, which rolled over and capsized, throwing the three crew members into the sea.

The crew of the Marie Ellie 1 retrieved the bodies of the two men who drowned and brought the 47-year-old survivor to hospital for treatment. He was released later that day.

The board reported that the boat capsized, "while hauling a lobster trap snarled with other lobster gear about 0.5 nautical miles west of Miller Brook's Wharf, New Brunswick."

This is not the first time TSB has recommended mandatory use of personal flotation devices, which the industry calls PFDs.

The same recommendation was given to British Columbia after an investigation into the September 2015 sinking of the Caledonian.

The fishing boat capsized near Tofino, killing three crew members. The lone survivor, a newer member, was the only one wearing a personal flotation device

A long time coming

A photo from the TSB report shows the Caledonian in loaded condition. The white horizontal line indicates the estimated level of the boats working deck. (Eric Sorenson/TSB)

Nova Scotia's own Labour Department hit the docks last year to remind commercial fisherman that wearing a life-preserver at sea is the law.

Lobster fishermen in Quebec have been required to wear a personal flotation device at all times on deck after two deaths in 2010 and 2011 of people falling overboard.

New Brunswick's Occupational Health and Safety Act gives a number of options to follow if an employee is at risk of drowning, but does not require fishermen wear personal flotation devices when their vessels are out.

The commercial fishing industry in the province is not included under the safety legislation or WorkSafeNB's safety program.

Several attempts have been made to address the occupational health and safety legislative gap in the commercial fishing sector, the Transportation Safety Board said in its report.

It said industry stakeholders have not supported the idea of adding more health and safety regulations.

In April 2013, the New Brunswick government announced a review of workers compensation that would be done in collaboration with WorkSafeNB. This was to include an examination of the areas that were excluded by workers compensation legislation, such as fishing vessels and small business owners.

As of 2017, the review has yet to address the issue of fishing vessel safety.

But WorkSafeNB supports the recommendations from TSB, said communications director Manon Arsenault.

"We look forward to working with the Department of Post-secondary Education, Training and Labour and the New Brunswick fishing industry to improve safety for all workers onboard fishing vessels," he said in an email.

"We know that life jackets and PFDs save lives. That is really what is at the core of this issue."

About the Author

Tori Weldon

Reporter

Tori Weldon is a reporter based in Moncton. She's been working for the CBC since 2008.