Investing in fishing safety The Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (FRDC) has just invested $350000 to help improve workplace health and safety in the commercial fishing industry across the country. This is part of the FRDC’s new National Research Development and Extension Marine Safety and Welfare Initiative. Working with industry partners such as Austral Fisheries and the Western Australian Fishing Industry Council, the Initiative aims to achieve the ambitious goals of zero deaths, an 80 per cent reduction in injuries and 100 per cent compliance with safety regulations. Workplace fatalities in fishing and aquaculture have averaged five a year for the past five years, making the sector the most dangerous in Australia – 25 times more dangerous than mining or construction (based on fatalities per thousand workers). The project, led by Tanya Adams of Taylored Health and Safety Pty Ltd, will provide the industry with a tool kit to assist with the implementation of the existing safety regulations. This will be done by building capability, as well as providing training. This research will also audit all existing health and safety current and past marine safety studies and ensure the results are linked in a cohesive set of actions the industry can take. “The FRDC is highly committed to improving safety in the fishing industry. At a national level, we are seeking to halve the number of fatalities and accidents in the sector by 2023” says Dr Patrick Hone, FRDC’s Executive Director. "Over the past year the FRDC’s own internal policies have made wearing life jackets or personal flotation devices mandatory for all FRDC staff and all those working on FRDC projects while on board vessels. "The FRDC through investing in knowledge, innovation, and marketing aims to increase economic, social and environmental benefits for Australian fishing and aquaculture, and the wider community. The FRDC is a co-funded partnership between its two stakeholders, the Australian Government and the fishing and aquaculture sectors."
Above: FRDC’s Managing Director Dr Patrick Hone (centre) and FRDC General managers John Wilson (right) and Crispian Ashby (left) showing the importance of wearing safety gear while on the water. Photo credit: FRDC For more than a decade the safety performance of the Australian fishing and aquaculture industry has not improved with an average of 5 fatalities each year. The SeSAFE project commenced in 2018 funded by the FRDC and the Australian fishing and aquaculture industry. The goal of this initiative is to raise awareness and improve safety performance in the fishing and aquaculture industry Australia wide. The SeSAFE project identifies that working in this industry is the most dangerous occupation in Australia, and fatalities are approximately twenty five times higher than the mining and construction industries. The most ‘at risk’ group are young fishers and aquaculture workers between the ages of 20 to 24 years, followed by those aged 45 – 54 years. The FRDC Marine Safety Initiative seeks a 50% reduction in fatalities and accidents in this industry by 2023.
Safety in the fishing and aquaculture industry has traditionally been shaped by national, state and territory maritime safety laws. “It is difficult to comprehend that working a kilometre underground is safer than working on the water,” says Steve Eayrs, principal investigator on SeSAFE, a Fisheries Research & Development Corporation (FRDC) funded project aiming to improve sea safety performance in the fishing and aquaculture industry. "SeSafe is addressing these issues using education and training. It is developing a learning management system (LMS) comprising multiple simple training modules to deliver essential safety training to fishers and aquaculture workers prior to going to sea." These modules can be completed using a computer, tablet or smartphone and are specifically developed for this industry,” Steve Eayrs says. Fishing vessels were permitted to operate once they had satisfied a safety inspection or “survey” carried out by the relevant maritime authority. This created an assumption that vessels “in survey” are safe. However, these surveys only address a narrow scope of safety requirements pertaining to the seaworthiness of the vessel, based on vessel design and stated area of operations. Although surveys can be considered one level of safety defence, on their own they do not provide an assurance of overall operational safety. They also do not overlap with workplace health and safety (WHS) laws that mandate broader workplace safety requirements, hence the need to consider safety management systems and associated WHS requirements that strive for broader operational safety requirements.
The differences between maritime survey and WHS legislative requirements are also not readily understood, or addressed, throughout the Australian fishing and aquaculture industry. Legislative attempts to resolve this ambiguity have historically offered no solutions to date and many fishers and aquaculture workers are allowed to operate under false assurances in a high-risk industry. Many also do not understand that a fishing vessel or any other vessel used during fishing or aquaculture activity is considered a workplace subject to WHS law.
The SeSAFE project sets out to complement other current fishing industry safety projects such as the Clean and Green Southern Rock Lobster program, and in some instances may seamlessly integrate with these projects. This helps provide a holistic approach to safety management, training, and compliance, particularly when combined with at-sea training and other requirements as part of a broader SMS, and helps ensure that barriers to adoption, training, and change are not duplicated, overlooked, or ignored.