This article was originally published in the April 2018 issue of Western Mariner
With the introduction of new safety regulations for small fishing vessels by Transport Canada in July 2017, there has been a lot of talk in the industry about safety management and the fear that these new rules will make it harder for fishermen to make a living. Although I understand this concern, it has been my experience that the use of a formal safety management system actually increases vessel profitability by decreasing downtime, reducing emergency repair costs, and improving crew morale and efficiency.
In practice, a lot of the procedures that you need to put in place under these regulations to ensure that the crew is safe also help to prevent incidents that would cause lost fishing time or damage to your vessel. Many of these prevented incidents would never result in anyone getting injured or the vessel coming close to being unsafe but even a minor accident can cost money. Consider water tight integrity – how many times have interior areas of the vessel been damaged due to an open window or a poorly sealed hatch?
I was told when I first got into safety management that it was simple to explain: say as you do and do as you say. What this boils down to is write down the way that you will operate your vessel and then follow that procedure. To be honest, it’s no more difficult than that regardless of what fancy name a particular program may have. Technology today allows all records and documentation to be kept in one place and easily searchable. A smartphone or iPad is sufficient to run a safety management program for most small vessels that will keep you in compliance with government record keeping and reporting requirements.
Over my years fishing I’ve seen that simple things can cause a lot of problems. We did drills one year and the zipper pull on a new survival suit was stuck on one side of the zipper. It took a pair of pliers and about a minute sitting at the galley table wondering why this f&*#ing new survival suit won’t zip up to get it fixed. An unzipped survival suit is useless. This was picked up during a drill, but from then on we knew that it was important to check everything because even new equipment can sometimes fail.
Crew Drills and Training will Tune Up your Operation
Safety drills help to familiarize your crew with the vessel and pick up components that are worn out or malfunctioning before they lead to breakdowns or lost fishing time. They also familiarize crew on how the equipment is operated. How many times have you had deck equipment or pumps damaged due to operator error? Running drills gives you a chance to identify crew that may need further training on certain equipment, or failsafes you should put in place to prevent simple errors like seacocks being left open or pumps being run dry. What you may feel is general knowledge because of your experience and attention to detail may not even enter into consideration for someone who is new to fishing or to that fishery.
Doing drills and training every crew member on how to operate the machinery also helps when you’re screwed up and have all the experienced guys at the rail trying to fix the problem. How many times have the words “The other way you f*&%ing idiot” been directed to the green guy running the controls? In an emergency situation people need to know what can happen as they may be given a job which is beyond their current skill set. Running regular drills ensures when there is an incident the response is quicker and more coordinated because it has been talked about and practiced.
Formalize your Vessel Inspections
Safety management isn’t just emergency drills that need to be fit into your busy schedule. The safety of the crew is tied directly to the safety of the vessel, and in order to have a vessel that operates safely it must have good maintenance. The positive thing about formalized management plans is that it gives you as platform to direct you on what to inspect, how to inspect it, and how to keep records of those inspections and repairs.
Consider your rigging – something that most commercial vessels have on them in some form. How often do you replace it? How often do you inspect it? When was the last time you inspected it? When was the last time you replaced it? A safety management program will give you these answers readily and bring to your attention when something needs to be replaced before it has a chance to fail. It is a lot cheaper to replace a $500 vanging wire than it is to have that wire break (always during heavy fishing it seems) and beat the hell out of your boat while you’re trying to get it under control and then on top of that have the increased cost of an emergency repair, lost fishing time and potentially dealing with an injured crew member and WorkSafe.
The advantage of any formal program is that instead of putting out fires you’re going around preventing the fires from starting. When an incident does happen the crew will not panic. They know how to approach and solve the problem because the response has been practiced. When an incident happens, the documentation you have in place makes it easier to determine what went wrong, which means you have to spend less time dealing with regulatory bodies and can get back to fishing faster. With fewer maintenance problems your vessel will run smoother and more profitably, and your crew will be happier and safer.
Start now, before you get Inspected by Transport Canada
If you don’t currently have a formalized safety management plan in place you should start now. Regulations are here, and if you get inspected without one there is a good chance that you will be shut down until you get one in place. It is a lot easier to modify an already existing plan which isn’t 100% in compliance than it is to try to put one together in the middle of the season while you’re dealing with trying to get the boat out fishing. There are many companies and programs available to help you get started. FishSafe offers the Safest Catch program, Helm Industries in Victoria offers a computerized management platform, and Transport Canada has checklist templates that you can alter to fit your vessels needs.
The real savings of safety management programs we will never see because it is in the catastrophic losses that have been avoided and the lives that have been saved. We can’t eliminate the risks of our industry but, by being proactive with safety, we can reduce them. Get your senior crew involved in safety management and encourage them to lead by example. I know from experience that a senior crew member putting on a life jacket is enough to prompt other members of the crew to do the same. Even one small action can cause a ripple effect to foster the creation of a safety culture on the deck and throughout the industry so that all crew can come home safe.