Do-It-Yourself safety

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They say if you want anything done right, you have to do it yourself. But I’m not sure that’s the best plan when it comes to safety at sea for mariners and fishermen.

And yet, based on what we’ve been seeing, that seems like the plan the federal government is keen to have when it comes to providing protection for people on the water — and now it’s been pointed out officially by the Auditor General.

Michael Ferguson’s report highlighted (or low-lighted, depending on how you look at it) out of date and unavailable aircraft, a lack of staff, a dicey partnership between Coast Guard and the military, different levels of search and rescue service depending on the hour — it’s all in there.

The end result of all that is people working on the water do not have the protection and level of safety they require and deserve. In fact, most fishermen will tell you they put more faith in their fellow harvesters to come help them in times of trouble as opposed to the official authorities.

And that’s not the fault of the people on the ground, at sea and in the air who are directly providing the service. It’s the fault of nincompoops pulling the purse strings in Ottawa, where it seems stuff only matters these days if it happens in Ontario or Alberta.

People’s lives have been compromised in the name of bureaucratic “cheques and balances.”

Disgusting. Revolting. Immoral. Call it anything you want.

I’ll call it hypocritical.

See, safety at sea is a two-headed monster: it’s about prevention and reaction. You have to work hard to prevent things from happening, and then, when they do, you have to be ready to properly and swiftly react.

On the prevention side, it wasn’t all that long ago that the federal government, through the Transportation Safety Board (TSB), was wagging a condescending finger at the marine industries, insisting there was a serious “lack of safety culture.”

What happened? The industry responded. People and groups put their heads together and started grinding the safety agenda into the industry’s psyche and forcing people to think safety first wherever possible (the professionalization of the fishing industry in NL in recent years has helped considerably as well).

The result of that effort is that we are seeing serious declines in accidents and injuries at sea.

In Newfoundland and Labrador in 2012 there were 19 at-sea accidents, down considerably from the 37 that occurred in 2011 and way down from the average of 51 in the five years previous to that. For the record, that’s a more than 60 per cent reduction over the past five years.

Fishing vessel accidents/incidents in particular were cut in half, down to 18 last year from the 37 averaged since 2007.

The numbers show the industry is doing its job on prevention.

And now it’s time the federal government stepped up to the plate to do the same on the reaction. It’s time to write the cheques to make sure search and rescue has the staffing, equipment and system to ensure proper safety for mariners.

Oh, and just so you know, dear federal government, there’s no need to waste any time playing politics about it or blowing smoke up our arses.

You have work to do and lives are at stake.

Get it done. Now.

Jamie Baker is the managing editor for The Navigator magazine, www.thenavigatormagazine.com

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