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Alert24 - Safeguard Update

Lessons for US fishing industry

Lessons for US fishing industry
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New Zealand

There are things the US fishing industry can learn from its New Zealand counterpart, according to the head of an American fishing safety research team.

Dr Jennifer Lincoln, who leads the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) commercial fishing safety research and design programme, spent time with representatives of the local industry in Nelson recently, before sharing her observations with staff and students from AUT’s Centre for Occupational Health and Safety Research.

America’s 115,000 commercial fishers have around 40 fatalities a year, making it one of the most dangerous occupations in the country, Lincoln said. Despite this, the 1988 law which sets out the industry’s main safety regulations focuses on the provision of emergency equipment rather than on preventing marine accidents.

“The US industry is highly regulated, with a lot of different requirements, but has very few safety regulations compared to other industries.”

Those safety regulations which do exist, she said, were largely prompted by the disappearance of an 18-year-old while he was working aboard a purse seiner operating out of Kodiak in Alaska. “His parents lobbied to make life rafts and immersion suits a legal requirement on all vessels, but this has resulted in a law that focuses on secondary prevention – surviving a sinking – rather than on vessel safety or operator licensing.”

In contrast, New Zealand’s industry regulations deal with primary preventions – including operator licenses, training requirements and vessel surveys – while the sector here is also much more focused on human factors than its counterpart in the USA.

Under a recent US law change all new fishing boats must be built to class and appropriately maintained, but this will have little impact in the immediate future, Lincoln said, because so few new boats are being built.

NIOSH – the research partner of US regulator OSHA – maintains a comprehensive Commercial Fishing Incident Database in which it collects and codes at least 100 variables from every commercial fishing fatality.

“This allows us to identify the risks for the industry, for different locations or activities, and for individual boats, so safety interventions can be targeted.

“In the decade from 2004 to 2013, for instance, 28% of all fatal incidents involved falling overboard – and none of those who died were wearing flotation devices. We’re working hard to design a better PFD so the guys will wear them.”

Lincoln urged New Zealand researchers to set up a similar database to gather useful information from local incidents.



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Jennifer Lincoln
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