UK federations gear up for new regime.

The biggest changes in fishing industry safety regulations in a generation, or possibly ever, are in the pipeline, reports Tim Oliver.

The Work in Fishing Convention (ILO 188) aims to create a set of common worldwide standards for health, safety and working conditions. It entitles all fishermen to written terms and conditions of employment (a fisherman’s work agreement), decent accommodation and food, medical care, regulated working time, repatriation, social protection, and health and safety on board. It also provides minimum standards relating to medical fitness.

ILO 188 standards will apply to all fishermen working on commercial fishing vessels of any size. They apply equally to employed fishermen and non-employed (share) fishermen.

The MCA has launched a consultation on ILO 188 that closes on 13 January, 2018. Although it creates worldwide regulations, there are flexibilities within them for individual countries to modify the rules to suit their own industries. The new UK regulations are expected to become law in mid-2018.

The UK federations, in conjunction with the MCA fishing safety team, have developed a Fishing Safety Management (FSM) system that will assist fishermen with the implementation of the changes.

Launching the FSM system at insurance company Sunderland Marine’s offices in Newcastle, NFFO safety officer Robert Greenwood said ILO 188 would introduce new responsibilities for the safety management of fishing vessels.

“Although the consultation has only just started, the federations were determined to be ready to support the industry before implementation,” he said.

“Where we can give flexibility to the owners and operators of fishing vessels we should, and this voluntary FSM code allows owners to structure a management system that suits them.”

The FSM Code was proposed by the UK’s federations to the Fishing Industry Safety Group (FISG). The idea was to give early clarity on how the new ILO 188 requirements were to be incorporated into the UK’s diverse range of fishing vessels. By having a simple structure, the FSM Code is scaleable to vessel size and will make it applicable from the single-handed owner/operator to the largest vessels in the UK fleet.

Robert Greenwood said, “While we know that there will be a legal responsibility on the owner to ensure that their vessel or vessels are managed safely, there was also no guidance on what that meant. We felt strongly that industry should lead this agenda rather than leaving it to the MCA, or waiting for a judge to interpret the legislation in response to a potential dispute.”

The FSM Code is voluntary – it is there to structure and support the application of existing legislation and to be future compliant with any eventual changes. The code structure will also provide an auditable system that can help not only to keep vessels safe, but meet market needs for providing evidence of legal compliance.

Trevor Jones of the Welsh Fishermen’s Association said: “We are noticing greater demands from the supply chain to demonstrate that UK vessels are compliant with ILO 188 and the Modern Slavery Act. While we believe that the UK is presently one of the best countries in the world for compliance, this code enables us to seamlessly improve upon, and provide evidence of, our position.”

Daniel Shepherd of Human Rights at Sea (HRAS) welcomed the ‘proactive and far-reaching approach adopted by industry in anticipation of ILO 188 coming into force’.

He said: “Through the FSM Code, fishing vessel owners have the freedom and flexibility to design a safety management system comprehensive enough to account for the human rights and welfare protections of fishers. In line with ensuring the integrity of their supply chains, some industry members in the Northern Irish fishing sector have already commenced implementation of this process.

“Recognising the potential vulnerability of certain fishers in their sector, Anglo North Irish FPO (ANIFPO) commissioned research into the provenance and working conditions of non-EEA crew in Northern Ireland (Fishing News, 9 November, ‘Spotlight on non-EEA crew’).

“Mindful that human rights and welfare issues are not applicable only to the non-EEA workforce, it is hoped that a similar ‘know and show’ approach will be adopted by vessel owners as part of their management systems and preparations for auditing against ILO 188.”

The FSM Code is published by the MCA as a Marine Information Note (MIN) and, while voluntary, it provides all the guidance necessary to help owners to structure their safety management and to self-audit.

Derek Cardno of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF) said: “We can see the benefit of encouraging the industry to adopt this code. It puts the catching sector in control of improving safety, making vessels safer and easier to manage – and supporting legislative compliance is good business.”

The NFFO was due to hold a special forum in London on Monday this week to discuss ILO 188 and the FSM Code.

Safety website

The federations have also collaborated on the adoption of the free website to ensure that it continues to be available, suitable and free to all UK fishing vessels.

The recently revised site has been developed to be compliant with the FSM code and will continue to develop to ensure that it is ready for the ILO 188 changes. The Safety Folder is being widely used across the UK at the moment, with more than 660 vessels registered and using the site.

The Safety Folder is compatible with the Responsible Fishing Scheme and other assurance schemes, and is an easy place to develop the evidence requirements of such schemes.

“It’s the belief of the Safety Folder management team that industry can and will improve its safety record,” Mr Cardno said. “Fishermen with busy lives trying to run successful businesses in challenging times can manage their vessels’ safety in an easy and organised way.”

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