Program Overview

Best-practice Occupational Health and Safety Framework

Fishers work in a particularly hazardous environment – one that is constantly moving, vibrating, and often wet, noisy and physically and mentally exhausting. They are sometimes tragically lost overboard, killed when vessels capsize, collide or sink, they get entangled in winches, fall from work platforms, suffocate in enclosed spaces, and face a number of other work and environment-related dangers.

Much has been done to try and improve the safety outcomes for those in the industry, but the fatality, injury and illness rates remain unacceptably high. Despite a plethora of standards, codes and regulations available to the industry, change is agonisingly slow. Clearly, there is much still to be done to improve safety and health on board fishing vessels.But just because it’s a hazardous occupation doesn’t mean that we should just accept that people will get hurt. We can put controls in place to reduce the risk to acceptable levels, increasing safety levels for all onboard. And this is the objective of the crewSAFE Safety Management Program presented here.

crewSAFE is a risk-based index-rating Safety Management System (SMS), designed to provide an effective framework to enable a systematic safety management program to be implemented onboard all fishing vessels – from inshore hand liners to large offshore factory fishing vessels.

The program requires management commitment (onboard and ashore), drive and visible involvement to support implementation, combined with employee participation and involvement to ensure success. It provides the processes required which seek to identify key risk areas and deal with these as well as generate immediate visible improvement on the vessel. As a result, the program produces actions which can be effectively audited and graded. This provides a means of sustaining and improving the quality of outcomes, and also leads to a positive culture of safety being generated.  

An organisation’s culture is often described as “the way we do things around here” – the emphasis on the word do. ProfessorJames Reason (Organisational Accidents and Safety Culture) states the following:

“There are two ways of treating safety culture: as something an organisation is (the beliefs, attitudes and values of its members regarding the pursuit of safety), and as something that the organisation has (the structures, practices, controls and policies designed to enhance safety). Both are essential for achieving an effective safety culture.  However, … it is very hard to change the attitudes and beliefs of adults by direct methods of persuasion. But acting and doing, shaped by organisational controls, lead to thinking and believing.”

crewSAFE proposes a practical “do safety” approach – which will ultimately lead to the “think safety” target.

Safety at Sea

The concept of ‘safety at sea’ is complex – and requires further analysis. The term “safety” encompasses two different but interconnected areas of study. Traditionally the maritime industry has concentrated on keeping the ship safe, and thus by default, keeping the crew safe. Resources were focussed on preventing the ship from sinking, burning or running aground. So, put simply, we have safety of the vessel, and safety of the crew. There are various references made in the literature to these two aspects to safety: statistics are often recorded as “accidents to vessels” and “accidents to persons”, and safety can also be referred to as “operational safety” and “personal safety”.

Possibly the clearest distinction is to refer to “vessel safety” and “occupational safety” – the latter including a consideration of occupational health as well.

And now the focus is very much on risk. Trying to manage safety and health without factoring in the broader risk perspective is ineffective, and inefficient. And with the risk-based approach advocated by the ILO Work in Fishing Convention C188, a focused management approach to safety in the fishing industry is needed more than ever. In response, the FISH Safety Foundation has developed the crewSAFE Safety ManagementProgram to assist vessel owners and operators with proactively managing this complex task.

The Program

As indicated above, the ILO Work in Fishing Convention, clearly advocates a risk-based approach to managing safety in the fishing industry. Based on our industry experience developing and implementing safety management systems over the past 25 years, we’ve developed a structured program for managing health and safety on board fishing vessels.

The crewSAFESafety Management Program consists of:

  • A comprehensive Standards Manual with an objective index-rating Audit Protocol
  • The necessary Implementation Package(documentation, registers, checklists, etc)
  • Promotional Material to launch the program on board

The index-rating approach is not new – in fact this type of program has been used in many high-risk industries across the world to provide a basis for their management systems as well as to gain an objective assessment of their performance to these set safety standards.  

Safety needs to be tangible, and this means having something ‘real’ to measure against. This approach then complements the “Think Safety” philosophy by providing a method to “Do Safety” as well. A program like crewSAFE, where specific standards are set and clear guidelines are supplied to meet these standards, provides a basis for the objective measurement of health and safety effort.

The crewSAFE Program consists of 6 Chapters and is subdivided into some 62 elements and is designed to provide an effective framework to enable a systematic safety management program to be implemented onboard fishing vessels.

The program Chapters are as follows:

  1. System Management
  2. Fire & Emergency Protection
  3. Safe Working Practices
  4. Vessel & Equipment
  5. Occupational Health
  6. Environmental Protection

A structured Safety Management Program like the crewSAFE Program will provide the vessel owner and / or Skipper with a practical set of guidelines for implementing a vessel-specific Safety Management System with the minimum of fuss. While the implementation of such a program may seem daunting, the benefits are well worth it.

Each of the 62 elements has a number of sub-elements that can be separately‘ audited’ as appropriate to the vessel and its operation, adding up to a total rating for the system. Overall rating is simply a percentage figure of actual performance against the total “possible”. This index-rating approach has the advantage of clearly indicating potential problem areas, as well as providing an objective base against which to compare the next audit rating, indicating whether the management of safety onboard has improved or not.

The rating system is simple – each sub-element is rated between 0 (no compliance evident) and 5 (system standards fully met / exceeded).


Each of the 62 Elements are presented in a similar way. There’s an Element Heading (in this case 2.1 Fire Fighting Equipment).This is followed a list of Inspection Items, and a place for Rating Compliance.

Also included on each page are a set of introductory Guidelines. These are by no means meant to represent a full set of requirements, nor are they necessarily a set of legal requirements to be followed at all times. The intention is to provide an overview and starting point for your health and safety program on board. We’ve tried to provide samples of “best practice” –sourcing information from various sources over the years.  

Each vessel and organisation will need to add to these guidelines as required by their particular risk profile. And the audit function of the Program will then measure compliance against these vessel-specific guidelines.

Also note that the focus of this Program is on OccupationalSafety and Health – there’s an expectation that the standard seamanship, watch-keeping and navigation, ship handling, ‘rules of the road’, sea safety and survival aspects are covered in existing procedures and training.


There are two international instruments that are important in promoting occupational health and safety in the fishing industry:

The ILO Work in Fishing Convention (C188): ILO ConventionNo. 188 sets out binding requirements to address the main issues concerning work on board fishing vessels, including occupational safety and health and medical care at sea and ashore, rest periods, written work agreements, and social security protection at the same level as other workers. It aims to ensure that fishing vessels are constructed and maintained so that fishers have decent living conditions on board. 

The Convention is supplemented by the accompanying Work in FishingRecommendation (No. 199)  as well as two sets of Guidelines for flagStates and portStates  carrying out inspections under the Convention.

The Convention came into force on 16 November 2017. 

The IMO Cape Town Agreement 2012: This international treaty on fishing vessel safety was adopted in 2012, resulting in a new agreement on fishing vessel safety, known as the “Cape Town Agreement of 2012on the Implementation of the Provisions of the 1993 Protocol relating to the Torremolinos International Convention for the Safety of Fishing Vessels, 1977”.

The CapeTown Agreement of 2012 sets international safety standards for the building of new (and major conversions of existing) ocean fishing vessels of 24 metres or more in length.

The Cape TownAgreement of 2012 will enter into force 12 months after the date on which not less than 22 States the aggregate number of whose fishing vessels of 24 m in length and over operating on the high seas is not less than 3,600 have expressed their consent to be bound by it.

'Doing Safety' Benefits

Programs like these have worked well internationally because there has been recognition of effort and accomplishment for those involved. Because the program can be broken down into many smaller ‘bits’, more people get involved and therefore many more can get recognised for their input. Furthermore, because of the practical nature of the intervention and program focus, many of the results are visible i.e. higher housekeeping standards and cleanliness, demarcation and signposting around fire and emergency equipment, etc. Communication is also improved because there is regular feedback to crew on safety matters. And, correctly implemented, this approach will promote a positive safety culture onboard.

As safety guru, James Reason, stated above: “… acting and doing, shaped by organisational controls, lead to thinking and believing (in safety).”