Of course, I was disappointed because the story was clipped for morning air time and primarily talked about the lack of safety compliance in the fishing industry being a result of the “cowboy culture” in commercial fishing. (You can read the full story here.)
I think that’s certainly a component. But what I don’t like is the go-to solution to the problem being to A) cut NIOSH funding for a national fishing safety program (led by Lincoln and her remarkable staff) that has proven their research saves lives in this industry and B) to promote mandatory vessel inspections by the Coast Guard that will dole out penalties for any boat not carrying the appropriate safety gear.
This is not a Coast Guard bashing session. Those folks often risk their lives to save fishermen (among others). They deserve props for dedicating their careers to public service.
But what so many regulators are completely missing is the fact that you can’t change the culture first. You have to figure out ways to work with the culture as it is in order to effect change the fastest and most effectively.
One of the reasons fishing is so deadly is because fishermen don’t wear PFDs on deck. Regulators often take the approach of closing this gap by fining people who don’t comply. The NIOSH Alaska Field Team took the approach of reaching out to the fishing community to find out why they don’t wear safety gear.
The answer, almost overwhelmingly? Because it impedes with the work they’re doing. No kidding. Have you ever worn a life jacket? It’s not comfortable. I would not want to work an exhausting physical job fighting my uniform.
Step two was to pass this information on to manufacturers of safety gear. Lo and behold, today there are many more options for life jackets and man-overboard alarms that fit the fishing lifestyle.
Ladies and gentlemen, that’s how you get it done. That’s how you save lives and make the deadliest catch less deadly.
If we focused primarily on improving gear and making sure fishermen got trained on how to don and employ that gear, we wouldn’t have to worry so much about vessel checks because safety gear would become part of the culture rather than a new regulation you have to follow or else.