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Fisheries Monitoring & Analysis (FMA) Division

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FMA's Safety Training for North Pacific Groundfish Observers

observers practice donning immersion suits
Figure 1.   Observers practice donning immersion suits in the classroom.  Photo by FMA staff.
 

The Fisheries Monitoring and Analysis Division (FMA) works to provide the best possible safety training for observers in the North Pacific Groundfish Observer Program. Addressing safety concerns is a large part of our daily operations. We have highlighted our safety efforts in previous Quarterly Reports. We described issuing Personal Locator Beacons to observers in the October–December 2006 Quarterly Report and overviews of the FMA safety program in the April–June 2006 issue.

This quarter, we highlight aspects of our safety training and field protocols. Recognizing the inherently hazardous conditions that at-sea work presents, FMA strives to ensure that observers are prepared in the event of an emergency. Prior to their first at-sea deployments, observer trainees are required to complete a 3-week training class. Twenty hours of this training focus on the potential hazards observers may encounter at sea and how to deal with them effectively. Safety issues are discussed during recurrent training for experienced observers. All observers perform in-water safety drills every 3 years, at a minimum.

The emphasis of FMA’s observer safety training is on avoiding injuries and responding to emergency situations. The class receives instruction on subjects such as how to respond to a man-overboard incident, abandon ship procedures, and dangerous sea conditions. Videos are used to show actual footage of past emergencies. The emergencies and their outcomes are discussed in class, highlighting the lessons learned from each one. The safety training also provides hands-on drills including donning immersion suits and an in-water safety exercise (Fig. 1).

Many observer trainees have no previous experience on sea-going vessels. To help orientate them to fishing vessels, we show videos and photographs of different vessels and vessel types. We discuss the gear used and potential hazards found on deck and in processing areas. For training classes in Seattle, we work with fishing vessels in port to provide trainees tours of the vessels they may work on or that are similar to the vessels they may work on.

Training includes information on the perils of seasickness, methods to avoid it, and how to deal with it when needed. Trainees are instructed on what to do if seasickness is severe enough to make them at risk of becoming seriously ill. All observers are given specific time frames in which they must inform FMA any time they are ill or injured so that we can work with them to assure their health is not jeopardized.

Prior to embarking on each vessel, observers are required to complete a Vessel Safety Checklist. The checklist documents the presence of all safety equipment required by the United States Coast Guard (USCG) onboard the vessel and serves as the "go/no-go" criteria for the observer. All required safety equipment must be onboard, in working order, and items with an inspection or expiration date must be current. If these criteria are not met, the observer does not embark on that vessel. The dates and types of safety drills conducted onboard the vessel are recorded by the observer. Additionally, observers document any marine casualties that may occur, and FMA shares this information with the USCG.

Earlier in 2008, two accidents occurred in the Bering Sea involving vessels carrying observers. In February, the fishing vessel Pacific Glacier caught fire. All persons onboard were safely evacuated to other vessels and the fire was extinguished with assistance from other vessels. Tragically, the sinking of the fishing vessel Alaska Ranger in March took five lives. In both events the observers onboard each vessel applied their training and were rescued without major injury.

In addition to providing training for observers, FMA staff provide vessel safety training to Alaska Fisheries Science Center staff. Center staff interested in obtaining safety training from FMA are able to work through their respective Divisions and the FMA Division to balance the need for training with existing resources. Also this quarter, FMA training staff participated with the USCG to assist members of the fishing industry develop a new safety training program for their crewmembers.

In the broader safety arena, the USCG has regulatory authority over the fishing fleet regarding vessel safety. The USCG recently issued a notice of proposed rulemaking which may result in improvements to several aspects of safety and training requirements for commercial fishing vessels. We are following this rulemaking process with interest and are commenting on it through our Headquarters office in Silver Spring. Any improvement in commercial fishing vessel safety provides a measure of improvement in safety for the observers working onboard those vessels.

Along with our safety efforts, FMA staff have continued to work with observers prior to and during their deployments to assist them with data collections and with finalizing data at the conclusion of their deployments. More than 160 observers completed briefing or training classes, and 197 final debriefings were conducted this quarter.

By Allison Barns
 


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