When I first started with the Fisheries Safety Association of Nova Scotia (FSANS) I heard that the fishing industry was resistant to change. It was sometimes okay to talk about safety IF it didn’t cost too much or bring about too much ‘change’. However, we can’t dismiss the reality that, if not for change, we’d still be heading out in a dory, alone perhaps, into the fog with nothing but a compass for navigation with hand nets and a half a dozen traps.
Fishing can be a high-risk occupation. But the safety culture is changing, thanks to concerted effort at every level. Creative, forward thinkers have always adopted techniques and technology to their advantage to improve efficiencies, increase their share of the catch and grow profits. After more than five years working in fisheries safety, we know that far more decisions are now being made based on safety of the vessel and crew, rather than just eking out a living at all cost.
Change is upon us, and more change comes along every day, perhaps ever so slight. Small, incremental shifts in thinking, attitudes and culture are measureable over periods of time through leading and trailing indicators. Leading indicators – inputs – include those things that are done up front to help create safety and prevent injuries and loss; like ensuring equipment is available, in good working order and everyone knows where it is and how to use it, safe work procedures, etc. Trailing indicators are after-the-fact outputs such as observed safety performance, injury rates, and cost savings. The Fisheries Safety Association was formed based on trailing indicators: injury rates and WCB premiums were too high, with few if any containment measures. FSANS has a mandate to improve safety aimed at lowering WCB premiums. A lofty goal, but finally the trailing indicators may be showing signs of promise. The WCB base rate for fishing dropped by 19% in 2016 – over $3M in savings – and we believe this will continue. Fishers are making choices and decisions – real change – with a prevention mindset and the results are starting to come in. We are merely cheerleaders, extremely proud of the advances that industry is making.
Even the enforcers are changing their tactics and approach. Five years ago, a senior official with the NS Department of Labour OHS Division stated that the fishing industry will never come around without banging heads, written compliance orders, huge fines, tying up boats, and time in jail. Last month, it was announced that provincial OHS Officers will be coming around to Nova Scotia wharves the week before fishing starts to promote safety and the wearing of personal floatation devices (PFD). They intend to be back on the wharf as fishers successfully sail home. They hope to catch people doing things right and gently (at first) counsel for improvement in safety practices when necessary. This shift from heavy enforcement to a softer, more consultative approach is a huge change in thinking over a relatively short time for government.
For the first time I know of, Transport Canada embarked on a series of public information sessions last year to explain vessel safety and equipment requirements and crew certification. Further, Transport Canada recently announced draft Fishing Vessel Safety Regulations after years of consultation with industry. There may still be a few bugs to work out but it appears they got it mostly right and industry should find the requirements easy to understand and follow. That’s a welcomed change for which all parties ought to be congratulated.
Today there is a greater emphasis on written programs, procedures and documentation on fishing vessels. Although this may not be a new requirement, it may not be common practice for many small fishing boats and may require a change in thinking. Help is available: the Coldwater Lobster Association is nearing completion of a lobster fishing safety guideline, FSANS has an Onboard Safety Program template that can easily be customised, and there are several very good, comprehensive safety management system tools available online.
Change is ever-present. How will things be five years from today? Will the inputs and leading indicators be even more obvious, demonstrated and on display at every wharf? We can only imagine: safety excellence evident on every fishing boat; an entire industry that radiates safety and profitability; one that attracts and retains skilled workers; and continues to contribute to the local and provincial economies. This will require change. One small adjustment after another in thinking, attitude and culture necessary to realise ongoing improvement.