Turning the Tide on Safety

Cermaq Canada’s multi-faceted safety program keeps workers safe, healthy, and proactive in preventing workplace injuries

by Gladys Johnsen – Cermaq Canada and Cermaq Canada Processing produce farmed, fresh salmon on the rugged coast of Vancouver Island, BC. The company employs approximately 250 people who grow fish from egg to harvest in four hatcheries and 28 sea sites, and who prepare top-quality Atlantic salmon in two processing plants (one under contract) for sale in North America and Asia.

Many jobs are physically demanding, and working on the ocean is still one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. To manage those risks, Cermaq Canada has developed a multi-faceted safety program to keep workers safe, healthy, and proactive in preventing injuries.

“The work at all of these sites is physical and repetitive, so there were a lot of MSIs (musculoskeletal injuries) when we first started our Ergonomics Program, but with dedication from our employees we have, for the second time in three years, gone a full calendar year without a lost time injury. Everyone at Cermaq is justifiably proud and looking forward to continued success. ” – Shannan Brown, Cermaq Canada’s HR manager

A good safety record has not always been standard fare at Cermaq. Indeed, until recently, the company was in a penalty position with its WorkSafeBC experience rating. In 2011, a total of 58 incidents, with 19 lost-time injuries, resulted in 1,462 lost days. As new safety initiatives took root, 213 days were lost in 2013, then down to seven in 2016. These improvements have moved Cermaq to a discount position.

Dave Samson, Cermaq’s Safety Officer, and the safety team examined the entire process of growing salmon from a safety perspective, from the time a fish enters a sea site, until it leaves a processing plant on its way to market. The safety plan had to accommodate a 24/7 workforce in all weather conditions.

A major issue identified by the safety review was the risk of slipping and falling. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency requires plant floors be smooth to prevent pathogen settlement; but they become slippery with nightly cleaning and sanitizing. Slips and falls are prevented by company supplied boots equipped with special traction. Tracking near-misses has shown the boots to be effective.

Ramps have steel plated mesh on the slopes to eliminate the risk of the forklifts losing traction while ascending or descending the ramp.

Another common issue was repetitive stress injuries, especially in processing plants where workers repeat motions throughout the day on the processing line, and while lifting and moving boxes of fish. As a solution, workers now stretch regularly and rotate each hour to another job not requiring lifting. Specific stretches were developed to increase a worker’s ability to engage in repetitive lifting.

“The impact of regular stretching has been dramatic.” says Dave, “Reducing the time lost because of MSIs has been a major driver of our lower injury rate.”

A third common issue that was identified was the risk of people working alone in remote locations, sometimes in areas with no cellular phone coverage. As a solution, the company has purchased and installed remote monitoring devices that connect employees to a third-party contracted company via satellite. A worker attaches and turns on the device at the beginning of a shift. Every half hour the worker receives a “beep” and touches a response button to indicate all is well. If there is no response, a checking protocol begins. The monitoring device can even detect a fall, or the worker can activate it to request immediate assistance.

To address high injury rates in the industry, aquaculture companies share health and safety history, knowledge and success through quarterly meetings of the Inter-Company Safety Group. As a result, together the entire Safety Group benefits from a lower joint base rate.

“Working with the Alliance through the OSSE certification process helped Cermaq look at itself objectively and really got us going. While the company saved money on its WorkSafeBC premiums, the primary benefit is the uniting of our workers and managers in a common safety goal.” – Peter Harper, Finance Director and head of HR & Safety Cermaq Canada