PEI

Malpeque lobster boat captain refusing to obey order to wear PFD

Malpeque lobster boat captain Chris Wall says he has no plans to follow an order to start wearing a personal flotation device. 

Chris Wall argues fishermen are not required to wear life jackets

Malpeque lobster fisherman Chris Wall argues there's no law requiring him and his crew to wear PFDs. The Workers Compensation Board of P.E.I. disagrees. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

Malpeque lobster boat captain Chris Wall says he has no plans to follow an order to start wearing a personal flotation device. 

Wall was issued the order a week ago by an occupational health and safety officer with the Workers Compensation Board of P.E.I.

"I've fished for 25 years, and I plan on fishing the next 25 years without one," said Wall. "It's your own personal decision to decide if you want to wear a life jacket or not."

Board says wearing PFDs mandatory

But the board disagrees. 

Its officers started visiting Island wharves in mid-June to ensure PFDs are being worn by all fishermen and their crews on the water. 

Until this fishing season, the board said it focused on educating fishermen about the value of PFDs and the fact they are required to wear them under P.E.I.'s Occupational Health and Safety Act.

But earlier this month, the board's director Danny Miller warned that officers planned to start enforcing the rule. 

"Continued non-compliance could result in a stop-work order," he said in an interview with CBC. 

'Threats and innuendo'

Wall's written order on June 19 gave him 48 hours to comply, by providing a written statement that he and his crew "agree to wear personal floatation devices."

It goes onto say that "a person who contravenes or violates an order is guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine."

Captain Chris Wall says while he does have life jackets on board, he and his crew members have no intention to wear them. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

But Wall said to date he still hasn't responded to the order and hasn't heard anything from the officer. 

"I think it's just a lot of threats and innuendo versus what's actually going to happen," he said. "I don't think it's ever been enforced. You know, a lot of times they swing the stick and hope you comply. But maybe we'll never see them again. Or maybe I'll be an example."

Some say regulations not clear  

P.E.I.'s Occupational Health and Safety Act Fall Protection Regulations state that where "there is a risk of drowning … the employer shall provide to the worker a personal floatation device" and that "the worker shall wear the personal floatation device while the worker is in the work area."

But Wall points out that the only part of the regulations quoted on his non-compliance order is the first part — pointing to the requirement to "provide" his crew members with PFDs. 

"The paperwork [the officer] handed me didn't say they had to be worn," he said. 

Wall added that because fishermen don't pay into workers compensation, he doesn't think provincial occupational safety rules apply to them. 

PC MLA Sidney MacEwen, who fishes lobster, said in the legislature last week that he didn't think wearing PFDs was required. (Al MacCormick/CBC)

It's clear he's not the only one confused over the rules. 

The same day Wall was issued his non-compliance order, PC MLA Sidney MacEwen questioned in the legislature whether officers should be enforcing the PFD rule, given the lack of clarity around it. 

"Honestly I thought the rule was you had to have PFDs in your boat but you didn't have to wear them," said MacEwen, a lobster fisherman himself. 

It's not clear whether Wall, or any Island fishermen, will ultimately be hit with a fine or stop-work order.

Malpeque lobster fisherman Chris Wall argues there's no law requiring him and his crew to wear PFDs on board. The Workers Compensation Board of P.E.I. disagrees. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

In an email to CBC Wednesday, Miller said that the "vast majority of fishing vessels were in compliance at the time of inspection or shortly thereafter."

He added that the workers compensation board "will continue to work with the small number of fishers who have outstanding non-compliance orders to further educate them on their responsibilities to provide a safe workplace for their workers."

Wall said if he is handed a ticket he "might not pay the fine" and that if that leads to a stop-work order he's still going fishing.

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About the Author

Steve Bruce

Video journalist

Steve Bruce is a video journalist with CBC P.E.I. He landed on the Island in 2009, after stints with CBC in Fredericton, St. John's, Toronto and Vancouver. He grew up in Corner Brook, N.L.

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