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Yes. While the terms are often used interchangeably, the main difference is the device's ability to turn a person face-up when in water without effort from the person.
As stated by Transport Canada:
“Lifejackets are designed for wear when abandoning the vessel in an emergency situation. They generally provide more buoyancy and give the wearer more freeboard (distance between the mouth and the water) by inclining the person onto their back to keep their face – mouth and nose – further from the water. Lifejackets are designed to help turn and keep the wearer face up even when unconscious. Higher buoyancy lifejackets provide the most support in turbulent waters and extended periods of time. There are no approved lifejackets that provide thermal protection on the market at this time.
Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs) are designed for comfort and constant wear. As a result, most models provide less buoyancy than lifejackets and will not roll wearers face up or incline them onto their backs. The wearer must be able to move arms and legs to avoid rolling forward. When worn, PFDs provide the wearer with a high degree of safety if he or she falls overboard. The buoyancy the device provides makes it easier to stay afloat, and if the water is cold (less than 15 °C), because it gives the body a chance to recover from cold shock – gasping and shallow, rapid breathing that occurs the first few minutes following immersion – and provides protection against the rapid failure in swimming ability that follows. Some PFDs have added thermal protection to delay the onset of hypothermia if in the water for an extended period of time.“
Buoyancy is the ability of the device to support you when in the water. Life jackets and PFDs will indicate the capacity they have (the person's recommended weight limit) for that device. Make sure that your device will support you by adding the additional weight of any clothing, boots, or tools that might be worn when working on or above water.
Transport Canada is the regulatory authority that sets out the standards for equipment and operations of commercial vessels. Transport Canada also accepts the use of the Canadian Coast Guard, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada approved life jackets and PFDs.
Yes. In Canada, all fourteen jurisdictions have legislation about protection against drowning. All jurisdictions require the use of a life jacket or PFD when there is the risk of drowning and there are no other measures in place which would prevent a fall in the water (e.g., other fall prevention or protections measures are in place such as guardrails, full body harness and life line, safety net, etc.). In some cases, the legislation may specify the use of a life jacket (device capable of self-righting a person).
Several jurisdictions address specific situations such as:
Note that Transport Canada also specifies certain types of devices when aboard certain water craft or when near water. For example Transport Canada specifies types of life jackets or PFDs for different vessels, including what devices are required for Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), all other vessels, small vessels, recreational use/personal watercraft, and human powered vessels (including stand-up paddleboards).
When choosing a life jacket or PFD, make sure it:
When practical, test your device by entering a pool or shallow water under supervision. When the water is waist deep, bend your knees and let the device help you float. It also helps to feel how the device works so you know what will happen in an emergency.
Always follow the manufacturer's instructions about care and maintenance. General tips include to:
In many cases, a person who is drowning may do so “silently” – that is, they are not able to call or wave their arms for help. Be aware when a person is unable to keep their head above water. While each situation may be different, signs may include:
Most importantly, always wear your life jacket or PFD. Do not keep it close by and assume you will be able to find it and put it on in an emergency.
Other safety tips include;
When using any personal protective equipment, the equipment use should be done as part of a personal protective equipment program. Refer to the OSH Answers document Designing an Effective Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Program for further information.
When working on or near water, an emergency response plan should be developed. A written emergency plan and procedures may also include the presence of a qualified or trained person who can assist in rescue operations, and availability of other rescue equipment, such as floatation devices, boat, boat hook, and/or signalling device. Rescuers may need to be trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and first aid.
If a person is rescued from a near drowning, get medical assistance. In some cases, secondary and/or delayed drowning may occur if a small amount of water has entered the lungs.
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Although every effort is made to ensure the accuracy, currency and completeness of the information, CCOHS does not guarantee, warrant, represent or undertake that the information provided is correct, accurate or current. CCOHS is not liable for any loss, claim, or demand arising directly or indirectly from any use or reliance upon the information.