Any job that involves working on water qualifies it as a hazardous occupation. Such is commercial fishing which takes place in an unpredictable, natural environment that can become hostile to both people and their boats. When you factor in extreme weather, sea conditions, mechanical issues and the risks of flooding, fire, tripping and slipping and going overboard, the fishing vessel becomes a potentially dangerous working environment. And if that weren't enough, there are additional hazards related to the very nature of fish harvesting and the way work is designed and carried out, such as lifting heavy loads, noise exposure, and repetitive motions.
In Canada there are more than 23,000 registered fishing vessels (Transport Safety Board of Canada) and more than 45,000 licensed fishermen (according to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans). Every year there are workers who perish or are injured harvesting the sea, a point that was driven home recently when five clammers died on the job in Cook Inlet, Alaska.
Although the hazards may be many, there are some basic measures that can be taken to reduce the risk of injuries and prevent tragedies on board fishing vessels.
Before getting underway
Before the boat ever leaves the dock, vessel owners and/or operators should have a policy in place that deals with the use of personal floatation devices by the crew while on deck, and they should communicate this policy to everyone working on the boat. To keep safety and prevention top of mind, fishermen and crew should take a marine safety class at least once every five years and practice monthly drills that include abandon ship, flooding, fire, and man overboard.
Inspecting and testing equipment is essential to ensure the safety of the crew and the boat. The vessel's watertight integrity should be maintained by regularly inspecting and testing high water alarms, the hull of the boat and watertight doors and hatches ensuring they are sealed. Immersion suits should be tested for leaks.
A man overboard alarm system should be installed and utilized as well as man overboard retrieval devices. To prevent entanglement injuries, emergency stop (e-stop) devices should be installed on hydraulic deck machinery.
Clear the decks
Good housekeeping is crucial to preventing slips, trips and other injuries on deck. Keep decks clear and uncluttered and stow all ropes in coils. All deck gear should be tied down and loose equipment should be stowed to secure it in bad weather conditions. Promptly clean up spills and spread sand over icy or slippery areas to avoid slips and falls.
Galley and crew quarters
The galley on a boat, where the meals for the crew are prepared, poses the same hazards as your kitchen at home, with the added challenge of working in a small space with the constant motion of the vessel. To keep everything in its place, galley utensils should be stored in racks or drawers and there should be a guard rail on the stove to contain any cooking pans being used. To prevent fires, clean the grease from filters and the stove ventilation system regularly, and don't leave a hot stove unattended where grease or oil could catch fire.
Make sure that all cabins and living quarters are well ventilated to prevent deadly exhaust gases from the engine room and generator from building up. Alarms should be fitted to warn sleeping crew members of the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
There are times when a person has to work suspended above the deck (aloft). The greatest hazard associated with working aloft is the danger of a fall. Other hazards include electrical shock, radiation burns, asphyxiation from stack gases, and dropping objects. When working aloft take the following precautions:
- Ensure that the radar is turned off before you go aloft to avoid radiation exposure and to prevent injury from a rotating scanner.
- Put a "Do Not Operate Radar - Persons Working Aloft" sign on the radar control panel to alert others that someone is working aloft.
- Wear a personal floatation device.
- Attach safety lanyards to all tools and parts (e.g. secure your hammer to your wrist) to prevent them from dropping and injuring those below. Rather than carrying tools up and down ladders, rig a line and raise or lower your tools in a safe container.
- Use a bosun's chair (a device with a rigid seat attached to a rope used to suspend a person to perform work) with appropriate safety harness and fall arresting gear.
Fires can be catastrophic in any workplace, however when fire occurs on a boat, there is no where to go to escape it but overboard. The best defence against fires is to prevent them from starting in the first place. Be aware of the common causes of fires on board so you can watch for and correct them immediately. These causes include damaged electrical cables and wires, exposed light bulbs, an arcing motor, ruptured fuel lines, faulty switches, and smoking in unauthorised areas. Also, be aware of onboard products with chemical fire and reactivity hazards and their appropriate control measures. Consult supplier Material Safety Data Sheets for specific information.
For a vessel to be safe it must be well maintained, and that means all equipment must be installed correctly, and kept in good working condition. There are hazards that could develop including:
- Fires from hot, unshielded exhaust pipes, and/or oil and fuel leaks into the bilge (the bottom inside part of a boat where dirty water collects)
- Flooding from unsealed hull fittings
- Fires and explosions from poor ventilation or poor backfire control
- Explosions from hydrogen gas emitted by batteries charging
- Any number of hazards related to rope that is kinked, damaged or misused
Safety and emergency equipment
Regulations require vessels to carry a variety of emergency equipment, such as fire extinguishers, fire pumps, bilge pumps, distress flares, immersion suits, fire buckets, life buoys, and life rafts or life boats. Everyone on board the vessel should know where this equipment is stored, and how to use it. Learn exactly what specific requirements and regulations apply to your vessel.
General safe practices
- When boarding or leaving the vessel, use the gangway or ladder. Don't jump.
- Watch your footing to avoid getting entangled, especially when wires, ropes or nets are moving.
- Never stand in loose rope or wire as it may tighten suddenly and injure you, or even worse, pull you overboard.
- Heads up. Don't stand under a load or in areas where overhead equipment may swing and cause you serious injury.
- Never bend your back over the load when lifting heavy weights. Stand with your feet a little apart, lift with your legs and keep your back straight as you lift.
- Wear proper safety equipment and clothing suitable to the job such as ear protectors, hard hat, goggles, safety boots, personal floatation devices, and heavy gloves where necessary.
- Wear heavy gloves or mitts when handling wire rope and never guide wire with your hands or feet.
- Make sure that hatches are properly closed when they are not in use to avoid flooding and falling through.
- Ensure belts and other moving parts of equipment have proper guards.
Remember, prevention is the best defence against injury and will ensure a safe return to harbour.
Tips & Tools
Keep your chemical inventory up-to-date
It is essential to know what chemicals you have in your workplace. A chemical inventory is a fundamental piece to your chemical safety program and is your first step towards chemical safety compliance - whether it's WHMIS training, environmental reporting, or emergency planning.
Taking inventory also provides the perfect opportunity to ensure that you have all necessary Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) on hand. It's a good idea to have MSDSs for both WHMIS and consumer products that you have in your workplace as the information provided in the MSDS helps to support your chemical program work. The product inventory can also help you determine if any of these products require "special attention" or are no longer required so that you can make arrangements for their safe disposal.
Before you start
Prepare a form which includes the following:
- name of the product or chemical,
- location of the product,
- type of label (WHMIS or consumer) and the symbols appearing on the label, and
- how the chemical is used (e.g. adhesive, paint, cleaner) and form (e.g. liquid, solid, gas).
You may also want to document:
- volume of the chemical,
- CAS numbers for the product (necessary for environmental or other reporting), and
- any special notes, observations, or questions you may have while doing the inventory.
Conducting the inventory
Everyone who conducts inventories should be trained on chemical safety and know the worksite. Take the following steps:
- Do a visual check for all chemicals throughout all worksites.
- Include common products such as cleaners.
- Work in pairs - one to record the inventory as the other calls out the chemicals.
- Wear appropriate personal protective equipment including chemical safety goggles, gloves and closed toe shoes.
- Know where the nearest eye wash station and emergency shower are located.
CAUTION: If any chemical container is not labelled, or is leaking, bulging, corroded, or damaged, or has crystals in a liquid, it should not be moved. These conditions require immediate attention!
When you are finished your inventory ensure that you have an MSDS for each product. If not, ask the chemical supplier listed on the label to provide one. Use your MSDSs to identify the ingredients and CAS numbers and add them to your inventory document.
Once you have a clear picture of exactly what chemicals and MSDSs you have you can move ahead with improving your chemical safety program to:
- reduce your chemical inventory,
- improve chemical storage,
- review emergency plans,
- review training for staff and so on.
TIP: Safely dispose of any chemicals that are no longer needed or are expired. This will reduce the number of chemicals to be managed and achieve benefits such as a safer worksite, fewer MSDSs, and simplified worker training.
CCOHS can help
MSDS Management System to help manage your collection of MSDSs
CANLabel to help create compliant product labels
CHEMINFO for trustworthy chemical safety information
CHEMpendium for chemical hazard information
RTECS® for critical toxicity data
Full listing of chemical related resources from CCOHS
People all over the world encounter carcinogens in their workplace or environment, and sometimes these exposures cause cancer. To help teach primary healthcare providers how to recognize and respond to these cancers, an e-course was developed by the National Committee on Environment and Occupational Exposures and the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS).
Occupational and Environmental Cancer: Recognition and Prevention teaches participants which agents cause cancer and what can be done to recognize occupational or environmental cancer in a person with past exposures. More importantly, advice is provided on how to prevent cancer in those with current or ongoing exposures. Healthcare providers learn how to conduct and interpret an exposure history, and follow up on their conclusions.
The course contains authoritative lists of these cancer-causing substances, accessible by chemical, by occupation or by cancer location. This course also includes case studies about people who were exposed to radon or asbestos.
Occupational and Environmental Cancer: Recognition and Prevention is intended for doctors, medical specialists, nurses, nurse practitioners and other healthcare providers, or anyone with an interest in recognizing and preventing occupational and environmental cancer.
The e-course is a collaborative project of the National Committee on Environment and Occupational Exposures and CCOHS, and was funded by the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer through the Primary Prevention Action Group. It is offered free of charge and is available in English, French and Spanish. The Spanish version was developed by the Pan American Health Organization and contains additional information relevant to Latin American countries.
More information on Occupational and Environmental Cancer: Recognition and Prevention.
Health and Safety To Go
CCOHS produces free monthly podcasts on a wide variety of topics designed to keep you current with information, tips and insights into the health, safety and well-being of working Canadians. You can download the audio segment to your computer or MP3 player and listen to it at your own convenience...or on the go!
This month's edition of Health and Safety To Go! features podcasts on working in confined spaces and how human resources and health and safety can impact performance.
Each year, workers are injured or killed while working in confined spaces. This month's tips episode, Working in Close Quarters, talks about the potential hazards and offers advice on how you can stay safe. Listen and learn what you can do. The podcast runs 3:21 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.
In this month's face to face episode Gerry Culina, Manager of General Health and Safety Services at CCOHS, discusses the roles HR and Health and Safety play to improve performance in the workplace. The podcast runs 14:41 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.
See the complete list of podcast topics. Better yet, subscribe to the series on iTunes and don't miss a single episode.
That burning sensation in your knees, nagging neck injury, or that pain you get in your back after a long day on the loading dock; all of these are musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), and the leading cause of lost time work days.
MSDs are often painful and disabling. They can affect all facets of your life - activities at work, home and in leisure. Even in early stages, recovery from an MSD can require months or years of treatment, and in severe cases, there may be permanent disability.
The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) has developed a publication, Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSD) Prevention Manual, as a resource to help you identify, eliminate, and control the sources of MSD in your workplace. The manual is designed to help you identify and understand how manual material handling (lifting, pushing, and pulling) tasks contribute to MSDs, and provides you with the guidance and tools you need for developing an MSD prevention program for your workplace.
Everyone at the workplace can benefit from the guidance in this manual:
- Employers will be able to reduce the number of injuries and illnesses by implementing a MSD prevention program.
- Health and Safety Committee members and Health and Safety Professionals will find this guide a good resource for reducing risk factors and helping to develop an MSD prevention program.
- All employees can use the information and case studies in this manual to understand their risks and get guidance in best practices that will help reduce MSD injuries.
More about the Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSD) Prevention Manual.
Other related resources from CCOHS
More about work-related MSDs, OSH Answers
Elearning courses from CCOHS:
Pick Up Tips on How to Lift Safely, free poster download
Full listing of CCOHS ergonomics and MSD-related resources
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The Health and Safety Report, a free monthly newsletter produced by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), provides information, advice, and resources that help support a safe and healthy work environment and the total well being of workers.
© 2015, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety
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