For more than a decade the safety performance of the Australian fishing and aquaculture industry has not improved with an average of 5 fatalities each year. Working in this industry is the most dangerous occupation in Australia, and fatalities are approximately twenty five times higher than the mining and construction industries. The most ‘at risk’ group are young fishers and aquaculture workers between the ages of 20 to 24 years, followed by those aged 45 – 54 years. The FRDC Marine Safety Initiative seeks a 50% reduction in fatalities and accidents in this industry by 2023.
Safety in the fishing and aquaculture industry has traditionally been shaped by national, state and territory maritime safety laws. Fishing vessels were permitted to operate once they had satisfied a safety inspection or “survey” carried out by the relevant maritime authority. This created an assumption that vessels “in survey” are safe. However, these surveys only address a narrow scope of safety requirements pertaining to the seaworthiness of the vessel, based on vessel design and stated area of operations. Although surveys can be considered one level of safety defence, on their own they do not provide an assurance of overall operational safety. They also do not overlap with workplace health and safety (WHS) laws that mandate broader workplace safety requirements, hence the need to consider safety management systems and associated WHS requirements that strive for broader operational safety requirements.
The differences between maritime survey and WHS legislative requirements are also not readily understood, or addressed, throughout the Australian fishing and aquaculture industry. Legislative attempts to resolve this ambiguity have historically offered no solutions to date and many fishers and aquaculture workers are allowed to operate under false assurances in a high-risk industry. Many also do not understand that a fishing vessel or any other vessel used during fishing or aquaculture activity is considered a workplace subject to WHS law.
The SeSAFE project complements other current fishing industry safety projects such as the Clean and Green Southern Rock Lobster program, and in some instances may seamlessly integrate with these projects. This helps provide a holistic approach to safety management, training, and compliance, particularly when combined with at-sea training and other requirements as part of a broader SMS, and helps ensure that barriers to adoption, training, and change are not duplicated, overlooked, or ignored.