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WorkSafeBC launches campaign to address fishing-industry safety

Fishermen are asked to wear personal flotation devices while working on a boat
Chris Cook survived after the fishing vessel he was working on, the Westisle, capsized in freezing temperatures in January, 2008, in B.C.’s Pylades Channel. Photo: WorkSafeBC

Steveston Village in Richmond has one of Canada's largest fishing fleets, and the Fisherman's Wharf is a popular destination for people to get seafood fresh off the boat.

However, WorkSafeBC has said commercial fishing is one of the most dangerous occupations in the province, and has launched a campaign to raise awareness about fishing-industry safety.

“Drowning is the leading cause of death among B.C. fishermen...WorkSafeBC is raising awareness about the importance of wearing life-saving personal flotation devices (PFDs) in the fishing industry,” said a WorkSafeBC press release.

The organization’s statistics show that there were 26 work-related deaths in the commercial fishing industry between 2007 and 2017 in B.C., and among those, 16 were drownings.

To raise awareness, a new video, Turning the Tide: PFDs in the Fishing Industry, was published by WorkSafeBC, which recounts two stories about commercial fishing workers who lost their lives at sea, and a story about a guide who nearly drowned.

In the video, Chris Cook and Dennis Woloshuk describe the turn of events that led to the commercial fishing boat they were working on capsizing in freezing temperatures in B.C.’s Pylades Channel. 

Kim Pepler talks about losing her son, Ben Dick, who died at 25 while working on a prawn fishing boat. And Ben Angus, a sport-fishing guide, recounts a serious incident that resulted in him falling overboard and nearly drowning.

“In each circumstance, wearing a PFD might have dramatically changed the course of events and potentially saved lives,” said the press release.

Patrick Olsen, manager of prevention field services for WorkSafeBC, said it’s easy to become complacent about the risk of drowning while working on a fishing boat, but “the danger is very real.”

“PFDs have evolved tremendously compared to 10 or 20 years ago — find the one that works best for you and wear it. It could save your life,” he said.

The organization also pointed out that employers are responsible for ensuring workers are wearing PFDs, especially where there is a risk of drowning, and that ship masters have primary responsibility for the health and safety of the crew while the vessel is being operated.

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