Atlantic Canada sees steady decline in injury ratesWritten by Michelle Morra 20 August 2010
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Injury rates across New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island are on a steady decline. That’s due to many factors, including promotion and awareness, stricter rules and penalties for non-compliance, training and education, attention to high-risk areas, and industry-driven initiatives that allow the most experienced and knowledgeable players in a sector to zero in on what needs to be done.
On the waterfront
Commercial fishing continues to be one of the most dangerous occupations in the world. Keeping vessels afloat or keeping workers from falling overboard in rough waters is never a guarantee, and death by drowning still happens every year in Canada’s fisheries. Though fatality statistics from compensation boards don’t list causes of death, between 2004 and 2008, seven workers died in Nova Scotia in the salt water fishing industry, and 14 died in Newfoundland in the fishing industry.
Fisheries also have high incidence of injuries, including strains and sprains, the common fallout of heavy lifting and unsatisfactory job design. In Nova Scotia, there were 421 fishing industry injuries, 172 lost-time injuries and eight fatalities in 2008. Due to the high rates and higher than average cost of workplace injury insurance for employers, Nova Scotia has been pushing for a safety association specific to the sector, and got its wish last January.
In operation as of this January, the Fisheries Safety Association of Nova Scotia is comprised of individuals and firms from the harvesting, processing, aquaculture and/or services sectors registered with the WCB. It aims to promote safe work practices, improve safety and make the industry more attractive for new employees. (Newfoundland has tried for years to start a sector council for the fisheries — perhaps this one will help pave the way).
Anyone working in the fisheries knows that what cannot be controlled – the weather and conditions at sea – industry must make up for with safety systems and initiatives, checks and balances, perhaps more so than in other industries.
Aquaculture – the farming of fish, shellfish and aquatic plants in fresh or salt water – is another important sector in Atlantic Canada. Prince Edward Island’s mussel industry, to cite just one example, produced 37 million lbs. (17,052 tonnes) of mussels last year and contributes over $60 million to P.E.I.’s economy. Like any sizeable industry, it merits close attention by health and safety authorities.
“The workers are on boats, on water, in all kinds of weather,” says George Stewart, director of the WCB's occupational health and safety division. The hazard associated with the water is drowning. Tomorrow it could be blowing 50 kms an hour and they still have to harvest those mussels.”
What can be done to minimize the danger? Stewart says the approach is the same regardless of the job, and that’s what the Prince Edward Island Aquaculture Occupational Health and Safety Code of Practice, released this spring, intends to demonstrate.
“It’s no different than building a high-rise building,” Stewart says. “You have to do a hazard assessment. We give them the tools to do that, the forms to fill out, the process to complete, and they have to feel empowered to do that.”
For someone who works at sea, assessing risk might include things like routinely inspecting equipment and vessels, and listening to the weather channel and coast guard warnings. There are fewer excuses for putting oneself at peril with access to today’s communication systems, including the Internet, satellites and GPS technology.
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Published in Safety Stories