New workplace laws to impact commercial fishers

Recent changes to marine safety and workplace safety rules place a greater focus on owners of fishing vessels to develop safety management plans for the vessel operations.

These new rules also require owners to demonstrate that they have trained their skippers and crew to understand and implement that safety management plan on the fishing vessel.

To learn all about the changes go to the WAFIC Safety and Training website page .

What is Safety Training on a Fishing Vessel?

This page has links to the two government agencies that cover fishing vessels:

  • Marine vessel safety – Australian Maritime Safety Authority
  • Workplace safety – Worksafe WA

Under both sets of rules there is a list of actions an owner must do before a vessel goes to sea:

  • Ensure vessel meets survey requirements and the skipper has the correct tickets to drive that vessel.
  • Go around the vessel and spot all the hazards of the fishing operation (eg. winches, ropes, hooks, netdrums, confined spaces, working heights, man overboard, fire, sinking vessel, poor ocean conditions, knives, coming alongside, refuelling and using chemicals).
  • Work out the level of risk associated with each hazard – high, medium or low.
  • Work out how best to minimise the risk of that hazard impacting the crew (eg. covers on winches, rope coil bins, harness when working at heights, lifejackets and harness in poor weather, buddy system when entering confined spaces, agreed action plan for man overboard.
  • You should document each hazard, the assessed risk level and the process you have developed to manage that hazard. This is your safety management system. For help go to:
  • Assess the compliance of your safety management system (plan).

You’ll find more information on compliance here.

  • Train your crew on how each hazard will be managed – especially emergency procedures for man overboard, fire or abandon ship.
  • Carryout regular practice drills during the season on emergency procedures for man overboard, fire or abandon ship.
  • Carryout practice drills for emergency procedures as soon as a new crew member joins the vessel (no matter how experienced they might be).
  • You should document all training and practice drills and require skippers and crew to sign off that they have completed all the training and practice drills.

What is Safety Training for a fishing vessel?

Training your crew in the safety procedures on your vessel is no different to how you train them to retrieve and set a pot or trap, handle a lobster to maximise quality, prepare the trawl net for fishing or fillet a fish to maximise recovery.

Safety training requires you to work with your crew to help them:

  • to understand the fishing operations on your vessel,
  • to accept that there are hazards that are around them while working on the boat,
  • to acknowledge there is a range of risks in what they are doing at any time, and
  • to train (through demonstration and practice) in the way you want them to work in each situation aboard your vessel.

In most cases safety training is common sense and most vessel owners have been doing this training for many crew over many years.

What is important now is for you to take a little more time to formalise your training:

  • document what specific approach you have decided upon to manage a hazardous activity (eg. how will crew operate the pot winch)
  • document how you are going to train your crew to do that activity safely (demonstrate preferred operation, start with slow winch speed, stop and explain at critical moments to elaborate on important points, oversee practice)
  • document when you have trained them and get them to sign off they have done it (enter in vessel log and crew sign as well/provide crew a safety training book)

Formal pre-sea training is also available at registered training organisations such as TAFE or an independent training or work health and safety business (eg. Elements of Shipboard Safety and General Purpose Hand (Deckhand). Some may provide vessel specific or group training in regional ports.

Online courses are also available. For example, SeSafe –