Some working conditions can be inherently more risky than others. This is the case with the commercial fishing industry, simply because being at sea and subject to weather conditions introduces factors that can’t be directly controlled.
Commercial fishing is a highly technical industry and fishers are usually extremely proficient at dealing with conditions aboard a vessel, handling equipment and responding appropriately to issues.
They also operate within well-defined chains of command, with a skipper holding ultimate authority over the crew of a vessel, often with a first mate as 2IC. To fulfill these roles they must hold qualifications (tickets) for the duties they perform.
This is necessary because the combined agriculture, forestry and fishing industries account for the highest mortality rate in Australia, with incidence of injuries more prevalent than in other sectors.
“Due to the nature of the work and environment, a small mistake can have serious consequences,” says Michael Leeks – Principal Safety Consultant in the Gallagher Workplace Risk Practice (Western Region).
Agriculture, forestry and fishing workers comprise about 3% of the Australian workforce, at approximately 36,000 people across the three industry sub-sectors.
According to Safe Work Australia data, between 2012 and 2017
- 24 workers in the fishing sub-industry were fatally injured at work
- 50 workers made compensation claims for one or more weeks off work, representing about 20 claims per 1000 employees.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), with the universities of Queensland and Western Australia, produced a 2018 report, Assessing the determinants and consequences of safety culture in the maritime industry, which found
- most maritime employees work long hours: 60+ a week
- 40% identify bad weather as causing difficulties in performing work
- 40% admitted to sometimes just ticking the box in terms of compliance with safety procedures
- 20% admitted to sometimes skipping procedures to get the job done
- 80% feel they can rely on their immediate supervisor and co-workers
- 80%+ agree their supervisors exhibit safety leadership.
“Most fishing crews trust their workmates to have their back, but there is a need to have clear, simple systems and processes in place to ensure everyone knows how to work together safely," says Leeks.
“We have a greater awareness nowadays on the effects of alcohol and illicit drugs on safety performance and many companies have policies and processes in place to manage this.
“Fatigue can have similar or even greater effects on performance but in a traditionally masculine environment this factor has often been overlooked or dismissed."
AMSA emphasises the importance of having safety management systems in place and clear and easy to follow safety protocols. The organisation provides a number of templates on its website.
A customised alternative is for commercial fishing operators to take advantage of a consultancy such as the multi-award winning Gallagher Workplace Risk practice, which has helped several commercial fishing fleets to improve their safety processes through practical controls and a shift in thinking on how safety fits in with operational requirements.
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