The importance of wearing a personal flotation device is rapidly gaining acceptance among Island fishers. It is also the current focus of a Workers Compensation Board campaign to prevent workplace death by drowning.
This comes amidst a tragedy on the water that rocked the fishing community and others Island-wide. Twenty-two year old Jordan Hicken of Lower Montague fell overboard while fishing with his father out of Naufrage in May. A massive search was unsuccessful and it is now a missing person case.
A life lost at sea is devastating to the community, said Amber Jenkins, owner of the Bluefin Restaurant in Souris. Many of her customers fish and she’s hearing more of them say they’re wearing them.
“We all need to wear them. I was out fishing on setting day and everyone on the boat had one on. I’ve heard sales of PFDs have sky-rocketed,” she said.
Designs have changed in recent years, turning PFDs from rigid, bulky fixtures to lightweight, flexible clothing that moves with the wearer and also adds a layer of warmth. A two-for-one value, Ms Jenkins said, comfortable and warm.
Joey Robertson fishes on Family Pride out of Naufrage Harbour.
“We use them on this boat now,” Mr Robertson said.
Occupational Health and Safety Officials have been visiting wharves as part of an initiative to encourage fishermen to be vigilant in donning the safety apparel whenever they’re on the water, Mr Miller, with WCB, said.
The focus of the safety initiative is life jackets and Mr Miller said OHS workers have been getting good feedback from fishermen.
The WCB would rather impress the importance of wearing PFDs and gain the fishermen’s compliance through education than fine them for not wearing them, Mr Miller said.
A fishing boat is defined as a workplace, and under the Occupational Health and Safety Act the captain and crew all have a role to play where there is a risk of drowning, he said. The captain must provide the safety gear for their crew and they are required to use it.
“Prior to Monday, June 10 we were going to a lot of wharves, strictly talking about safety,” Mr Miller said.
He said it is encouraging to see more fishers wearing life jackets and attributes it to better designs that fit like an another layer of clothing. Newer PFDs have fewer fasteners or cords hanging from them and so pose less of a risk of entanglement with equipment on board a vessel.
“We’re absolutely seeing a change for the positive. You talk about a change of culture,” Mr Miller said.
It was the same when seat belt use in cars became mandatory, he said, but now it’s the first thing most people do when they get in their vehicles.
“We hope fishers are wearing PFDs because it’s the right thing to do.”
Mr Miller said OHS workers weren’t issuing fines to fishers they encountered who weren’t wearing PFDs but rather orders to comply by a certain date.
Follow ups with some suppliers showed a number of orders for PFDs had been placed by customers after they were approached by OHS.
People who still elect not to wear PFDs have their excuses, Mr Miller said.
“The number one reason is they don’t understand they are required under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.”
Fishers have also said the PFDs are uncomfortable to wear all day and they “get in the way” of normal physical motions.