TSB recommends a review of the gap in oversight of occupational health and safety on fishing vessels registered in Canada’s North
Gatineau, Quebec, 7 December 2023 — Today, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) issued a recommendation aimed at enhancing commercial fishing safety in Canada’s North following the investigation (M21C0214) into the death of a crew member who was pulled overboard the fishing vessel Suvak in Davis Strait, Nunavut.
On 26 August 2021, the Suvak was nearing the end of a two-week fishing trip when one of two crew members who were hauling and setting nets was pulled overboard after his arm became entangled in a buoy line. The crew member was recovered from the water and later pronounced dead.
The investigation identified risks related to the absence of fatigue management plans and risk assessments for operating procedures. In this occurrence, the two crew members setting the nets had been awake for over 21 consecutive hours and had only taken a 1.75-hour break. As a result, they were experiencing sleep-related fatigue from a combination of acute and chronic sleep disruption, continuous wakefulness, and circadian rhythm disruptions, which reduced their cognitive abilities, including their ability to remain vigilant against risks.
The TSB found a gap in the oversight of occupational health and safety (OHS) on fishing vessels registered in the Canadian territories, including the Suvak. Transport Canada (TC) has a significant regulatory role when it comes to commercial fishing safety and provides a national regulatory framework that applies to many aspects of fishing vessels. Employment and Social Development Canada is responsible for the application of the Canada Labour Code, while TC is delegated the responsibility to apply and enforce the Maritime Occupational Health and Safety Regulations.
Territorial governments consider fishing vessels to be under TC’s jurisdiction, however TC considers OHS inspections of these vessels to be outside its jurisdiction. If there is no oversight of OHS on fishing vessels registered in the territories, there is a risk that crews of those vessels will be subject to unnecessary health and safety hazards in the workplace. Enhanced OHS oversight of fishing vessels could be better achieved through a coordinated and harmonized approach between federal and territorial authorities.
Therefore, the Board recommends that the Department of Transport, in collaboration with the Department of Employment and Social Development and the territorial governments, review the occupational health and safety oversight of fishing vessels registered in the territories to ensure effective workplace safety oversight. (TSB Recommendation M23-09)
“The Suvak investigation highlights ongoing concerns about safety management, fatigue management, and regulatory surveillance, three major systemic safety issues in the commercial fishing industry that are included on the TSB Watchlist,” said Kathy Fox, Chair of the TSB. “Transport Canada, Employment and Social Development Canada, and the territorial governments need to enhance occupational health and safety oversight for fishing vessels registered in the territories. This gap unnecessarily puts crews at risk of workplace safety hazards.”
See the investigation page for more information.
The TSB is an independent agency that investigates air, marine, pipeline, and rail transportation occurrences. Its sole aim is the advancement of transportation safety. It is not the function of the Board to assign fault or determine civil or criminal liability.
For more information, contact:
Transportation Safety Board of Canada