Nova Scotia

Bigger lifeboats needed for bigger workers

Companies working off Nova Scotia's coasts have been told to supersize their lifeboats to accommodate bigger workers.

Companies working off Nova Scotia's coasts have been told to supersize their lifeboats to accommodate bigger workers.

If they don't, the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board wants them to add more of these lifesaving vessels.

The current standard for lifeboats is based on a person weighing 165 pounds in a survival suit. The proposed standard is 220 pounds.

"The reality is such that the workforce is considerably larger nowadays," said Dave Scratch, the regulator's chief safety officer.

A lifeboat may be rated for 50 people, but that doesn't mean they all fit.

"We've had a number of [exercises and drills] where they actually wouldn't. We found that most lifeboats had to be downsized just because people were larger and wouldn't fit in the allocated locations," said Scratch.

Companies such as EnCana and ExxonMobil have until May 7 to respond to the board's safety notice.

The board is following the lead of the U.K., which adjusted safety regulations after a study found offshore workers are heavier now than 20 years ago. The Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board has issued a similar notice.

Industries adapt

Many other industries are adapting their products too.

Glen Hougan, an industrial designer specializing in health care, said changes are underway anywhere weight is an issue — from elevators to caskets.

"For roller-coasters, because people couldn't put the bar over and strap themselves in, there are now seats called 'big boys,'" said Hougan, the Sunlife chair of design in health and aging at NSCAD University in Halifax.

Funeral companies need bigger caskets and stadiums like Wimbledon are putting in bigger seats, he said.

Hougan said it's not just a matter of getting people to exercise and diet.

"I'm not sure if that's the correct way to go," he said. "Some of it is genetic, some of it is our lifestyle."