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The following op-ed by Stuart MacLean, CEO of the Workers' Compensation Board of NS, appeared on page E2 of the Aug. 16 edition of The Chronicle Herald.
Granite monuments in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia
Nova Scotia’s fishing communities boast some of the most beautiful scenery in our province: diverse, picturesque shorelines, wharves lined with fishing vessels, boats bobbing along in the water. These incredible maritime settings can truly take your breath away. They represent a core part of the fabric of our province.
In the midst of some of this beautiful scenery, however, also stand large granite monuments, each providing a harsh reminder of the hardship that has long been a part of Nova Scotia’s fishing history. The long lists of names etched into the stones remind us of the ships, fishing vessels and people who have lost their lives at sea.
Although fishing is an industry deeply rooted in tradition, the future is full of opportunity to create new, safe traditions. And many of these are already slowly starting to emerge, take hold and grow within the industry. Every day we see and hear of people not just thinking differently, but acting differently, about fishing safety on wharves and vessels around the province.
PFDs are popping up everywhere, and many fishermen are eager to share their stories of wearing them while they work. When a PEI fisherman attended a safety demonstration in Nova Scotia and discovered the importance of having a ladder on board his boat in case a crew member goes overboard, he returned home and wrote an article in his community paper encouraging others to equip their boats with ladders too.
And last November, when the fishing season in Southwest Nova was delayed due to weather conditions, we heard fishermen comment in the media with things like, “Safety is the reason, nothing else. You never want to lose anybody,” and “If it saves one man’s life, it’s worth it.”
These are just some of the actions we’re seeing and hearing about, but nonetheless, they are a strong sign of a shift in the industry. And we are doing everything we can to help grow this shift.
Over the past few months, we at the WCB, along with our partners at the Department of Labour and Advanced Education, the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture, the Fisheries Safety Association of Nova Scotia and the Nova Scotia Fisheries Sector Council have been working closely with industry representatives to create a Safe at Sea Alliance.
We’ve been engaging fishermen, their families and other community members, bringing leaders together, and visiting wharves and communities across the province to hear about what might be different so that fishing can happen more safely. At the same time, we’ve also been engaging those who can ultimately help facilitate the changes needed, including partners from other associations and various departments and levels of government.
Our goal is to create the conditions for success so that our province’s proud fishing traditions carry on in a way that reduces the risk of people not coming home to their families.
And ultimately, working together, the Safe at Sea Alliance – industry, government and other partners – will use all of the thoughts, comments and recommendations gathered over the past few months to develop an action plan that will help shape the future fishing in Nova Scotia. Because in order for our future fishery to be bright, vibrant and prosperous, it needs to be safe.
As I look to the future of fishing in Nova Scotia, I envision a day where we all believe that workplace injuries are preventable. And, recognizing the risks inherent in the industry, I envision a day where the whole industry embraces health and safety. I firmly believe the key to achieving this lies within all of us continuing to work together and grow the safety culture that has already started to take root.