National effort to improve onboard safety 24 Mar 2015

Working at sea is a high-risk occupation. The death rate for workers in Australia’s (wild capture) fisheries is 22 times higher than the nation’s all-industry average (2010/11).

As a part of the effort to change this, new minimum requirements have been introduced, including the need for a Safety Management System (SMS) to be in place on boats by 1 July 2016.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) has taken responsibility for the national framework for onboard workplace health and safety (WHS), first initiated in 2013.

The newly appointed chairman of AMSA, Stuart Richey will help oversee the introduction of the changes to the National System for Domestic Commercial Vessels, designed to simplify the rules while also lifting baseline safety standards.

These changes have made the safety requirements consistent across all vessels on the sea and inland waterways, including all fishing and tourism operations, and passenger vessels.

“The sea is a challenging work place; conditions continually change,” Stuart Richey says. “There can be a lot happening on the deck and one slip of concentration can put you and others in a very dangerous situation.” 

“Getting the message out to the fishing industry is vital. The seafood industry is now a major focus for AMSA under the new national system, and the development of SMSs will be an important component of this,” he said.

Liaison Officer for AMSA, Wes Oswin, says there is plenty of support available to help boat owners develop an SMS, through AMSA and its state and territory service providers. He says the aim is to create a commitment to safety at all levels within a business and to make safety top of mind in day-to-day operations.

The revised National Standard for Commercial Vessels (NSCV Part E – Operations) covers Class 3 fishing operations. Copies of the standard, additional guidance material and sample SMS for fishing operations are available for download from the operational safety section of AMSA’s website

An SMS must identify and control risks and provide a method to ensure that the risk controls are effective. It should include the roles and responsibilities on board, crew training and induction, procedures for on board processes, emergency plans, systems for maintenance of vessel and equipment and logging and recording events.

The Primary Industries Health and Safety Partnership (PIHSP), which is part-funded by the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (FRDC), has recently produced a report and a fishing fact sheet to help employers and workers understand their legal WHS responsibilities and to easily access important information to help meet these requirements.

Both publications can be accessed at