New Brunswick

New rules in works to raise safety standards in fishing industry

WorkSafeNB wants to change the Occupational Health and Safety Act so that fishing vessels are considered a place of employment — another move in the ongoing effort by regulatory bodies to lift safety standards across the fishing industry.

WorkSafeNB wants to implement new compliance requirements for fishing vessels

WorkSafeNB hired instructors from Nova Scotia to walk through overboard drills with Fundy fishermen. (Roger Cosman/CBC)

Dozens of Fundy fishermen have been taking part in emergency drills as the fishing industry continues to work with WorkSafeNB on proposed legislation to improve safety.

WorkSafeNB is examining changes to the Occupational Health and Safety Act so that fishing vessels are considered a place of employment — another move in the ongoing effort by regulatory bodies to lift safety standards across the fishing industry.

"WorkSafe was tasked with looking at the fishing industry following an accident in the Gulf of St. Lawrence," said Melanie Sonnenberg of the Grand Manan Fishermen's Association. "They had been prior to that. But this refocused the attention on the fishing industry."

Last year was the deadliest year for the Canadian fishing industry in more than a decade. Seventeen people died aboard fishing vessels in 2018, the most since 2004, prompting the Transportation Safety Board of Canada to sound the alarm about the industry's safety culture.

The instructors demonstrated use of modern equipment, like the Pubnico Ring, in overboard drills. (Roger Cosman/CBC)

As it stands, fishing vessels are not considered a workplace, meaning they don't adhere to any WorkSafeNB compliance requirements. Proposed legislative amendments would give captains binding safety obligations.

Sonnenberg said the new provincial rules would in many ways mirror Transport Canada regulations ushered in over the past few years — new requirements for the vessel integrity, equipment and operational procedures

WorkSafeNB's scope will also examine workplace hazards, she said.

"I think that's what you'll see them focus on, is how can we help these folks be more efficient and, you know, mitigate any risks that might present," Sonnenberg said.

According to WorkSafeNB, there are no standards of selection and use of personal floatation devices in the current legislation. If passed, the amendments will require employers or captains to provide their crew with Transport Canada-approved devices and require that all crew members wear them on board.

New Brunswick is one of two Canadian provinces without occupational health and safety authority over the industry, the organization said.

Fishermen not enthusiastic

But Sonnenberg said there is some reluctance among fishermen to adapt to the new reality.

Greg Thompson, president of the Fundy North Fishermen's Association, agreed.

"The people here are quite safety-conscious, for sure, but we do find rules a bit onerous at times," he said. 

Thompson said he's all for improved on-board safety, but re-equipping his vessel with new gear has been costly. 

Greg Thompson, president of the Fundy North Fishermen's Association, described the training as 'invaluable.' (Roger Cosman/CBC)

He was among the fishermen who took in the recent WorkSafeNB-sponsored training session in Dipper Harbour. Training sessions were held in other Fundy communities in the past week and will be held in other coastal regions of the province next year.

Instructors from Nova Scotia walked them through overboard drills, use of personal flotation devices, and new equipment. 

"These demonstrations are invaluable because you always think you'll know what to do when trouble comes, but unless you've had a little practice or a little insight, sometimes it doesn't quite do it," said Thompson.

Angela Francoeur of WorkSafeNB says the organization is working with the fishing industry to prepare for new compliance requirements to come into effect. (Roger Cosman/CBC)

Consultations with the industry to change the Occupational Health and Safety Act are continuing.

WorkSafeNB official Angela Francoeur said the industry has done a lot of work to improve the level of safety on fishing vessels. This collaboration allows more safety issues come to light and crews are better able to respond, she said.

"We're teaching them it's a high-risk industry," she said, "but there are ways to problem solve and put things on boats to avoid, one, that people don't go overboard and, if they do, people have the right tools, equipment and training to be able to get them back on board quickly and safely."

With files from Connell Smith

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