Recommendation M16-04

Assessment of the response to Marine Safety Recommendation M16-04

Wearing of suitable PFDs at all times while on the deck of a fishing vessel

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On 05 September 2015, the fishing vessel Caledonian capsized 20 nautical miles west of Nootka Sound, British Columbia. At the time, the vessel was trawling for hake with 4 crew members on board. Following the capsizing, the master and mate climbed onto the overturned hull and remained there for several hours. When the vessel eventually sank, the master and mate abandoned it, and the mate swam toward and boarded the life raft. The Canadian Coast Guard subsequently rescued the mate and recovered the bodies of the master and the 2 other crew members.

The Board concluded its investigation and released report M15P0286 on 12 December 2016.

TSB Recommendation M16-04 (December 2016)

Fishermen often operate in harsh physical and environmental conditions. They harvest, load, transfer, and store their catch while the vessel is in various sea conditions, and the risk of going overboard is high. If a fisherman ends up in the water, the consequences can be fatal. The SII identified falling overboard as the second highest cause of death in the fishing industry. In British Columbia, since 2006, the TSB has determined that approximately 70% of all fishing‑related fatalities result from not using a personal flotation device (PFD).

TSB investigations have shown that wearing a PFD increases the chance of surviving a man overboard situation, and this occurrence is yet another example, where the mate who was the only one wearing a PFD survived.

In February 2012, the Commission de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CSST) made it compulsory for lobster fishermen to wear PFDs at all times. Recently, the CSST has sent letters to all masters on lobster fishing vessels explaining the regulation as it pertains to the mandatory use of lifejackets or PFDs on board fishing vessels and the CSST has conducted 150 vessel visits to ensure compliance.

Apart from the CSST, neither TC nor any other provincial workplace safety regulator has requirements to ensure that fishermen wear PFDs at all times. Those requirements that do exist place the onus on fishing vessel masters to determine whether or not a risk is present and to decide if PFDs should be worn. Not only is this assessment of risk subjective, but it also assumes that crew members are in a position to recognize when risk is present and have the time available to don a PFD or other flotation device.

Despite risk-based regulations and industry initiatives to change behaviours and create awareness about the importance of wearing PFDs, as well as design improvements by PFD manufacturers to address fishermen's concerns about comfort and constant wear, there has not been a significant change in the behaviour of fishermen and many continue to work on deck without wearing a PFD.

The TSB believes that the implementation of explicit requirements for fishermen to wear PFDs, along with appropriate education and enforcement measures, will significantly reduce the loss of life associated with going overboard. The TSB therefore recommended that:

WorkSafeBC require persons to wear suitable personal flotation devices at all times when on the deck of a commercial fishing vessel or when on board a commercial fishing vessel without a deck or deck structure and that WorkSafeBC ensure programs are developed to confirm compliance.
TSB Recommendation M16-04

WorkSafeBC's response to Recommendation M16-04 (April 2017)

We have reviewed the recommendation and offer the following comments.

Occupational health and safety regulations, including those related to fishing safety, are made and enforced by WorkSafeBC. Part 8 of the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation (OHSR) contains regulations related to the general applicability of buoyancy equipment and Part 24 of the OHSR contains regulations related to fishing operations. The regulations under Part 24 apply to all owners, masters, and crew members of licensed commercial fishing vessels.

Section 8.26(1) of the OHSR requires workers working under conditions which involve a risk of drowning to wear a personal flotation device (PFD) or lifejacket. The section is one of general application applying to all workplaces. Commercial fishing vessels are different from fixed or onshore workplaces as they can pitch, heave, roll over or sink with little or no notice.

As part of its 2017 regulatory amended process, WorkSafeBC is proposing a new provision in Part 24 of the OHSR that would require crewmembers of commercial fishing vessels to wear PFDs or lifejackets when they are working on deck. This amendment would be in addition to the requirement under Part 8 and would be tailored specifically to work aboard commercial fishing vessels.

In addition to the proposed amendment, workplace inspections by specially trained Marine based Prevention Officers taking place while vessels are tied to the dock and while actively participating in fishing operations at sea include a continued focus on the use of PFDs in all marine sectors where there is a risk of drowning.

In March of 2017, WorkSafeBC also launched a strategic marketing campaign to get the message out to skippers and fishermen that PFDs save lives. The initiative utilizes Municipal Harbour Authorities as a conduit for the placement of key messages and awareness materials.

The campaign features geo-targeted mobile ads and signage at marinas up and down the west coast.

The focus of all this initiative is to raise awareness with skippers that they have a responsibility for their crews' health and safety. The key campaign messages are:

  • On deck? Put it on. Because if it's your crew, it's your responsibility.
  • As the skipper, it's your responsibility to make sure everyone on deck wears a PFD – including you.

Skippers and other fishermen are encouraged to visit for resources on PFDs to help with safety planning.

We trust the information provided supports a better understanding of WorkSafeBC's current and proposed actions taken in response to the TSB's recommendation M16-04.

TSB assessment of WorkSafeBC's response to Recommendation M16-04 (June 2017)

If WorkSafeBC fully implements the proposed regulatory amendments, vessel inspections and marketing campaigns, then awareness of the importance of wearing a PFD will be raised, increasing usage, and reducing the loss of life associated with going overboard.

Therefore, the response to the recommendation is considered to be Satisfactory Intent.

Next TSB action

The TSB will monitor the progress of WorkSafeBC's current and proposed actions.

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