Prawn fishers switched on to safety

At the Northern Prawn Fishery, skippers and their crews are taking steps to ensure that the sage return to port of all on board is an essential component of a 'successful season'

Trawler skipper Arron Jones says good communication helps everyone stay calm and alert and results in a safer and more efficient workplace.

A pilot program designed to encourage members of the fishing industry to improve safety at sea through better communication has caught on in far north Queensland.

Operators in the Northern Prawn Fishery have taken part in the program, which aims to reduce deaths and injuries in the workplace by changing the way skippers and crew members communicate with each other.

An initial training session was held in July 2015 with 80 participants. Safety attitudes and actions were then monitored for 12 months, and a refresher course was held for trawler captains before the start of the Tiger Prawn season in August 2016.

Skipper of the Gulf Bounty Arron Jones says the program has given him the tools to better communicate with his crew, to ensure their wellbeing during months of high-stress work. “The program has made a difference to the people in the fishery in the way they manage crew and the way the crew manage themselves, too,” he says.

“As a skipper you know what you need your crew to do, but being able to communicate that and make sure daily tasks are completed on time and safely is an area the training has helped us with.”
Arron Jones says the simple act of thinking before speaking has encouraged a cultural shift. “Since doing the first course last year I’ve found I’ve got better responses and better work out of my crew since applying some of the communication tips on a daily basis,” he says.

The program was run by the international training organisation Sentis, which uses a psychological approach to help engage staff in creating safer workplaces.

Sentis associate consultant Christiaan Knapp says that as the leaders of the crew, skippers have a responsibility to ensure crew behaviour aligns with safe work practices. The ‘High Performing and Safe Teams’ program provides techniques that help crews understand not just what to do, but why it is important.

Greater awareness

“The Tiger [Prawn] season is very routine,” Christiaan Knapp says. “So we brought some awareness to how skippers can influence their crews to switch on their brains in those moments when they are doing those routine tasks.”

The Primary Industries Health and Safety Partnership (PIHSP) funded the program in collaboration with Northern Prawn Fishery Industry, the representative body for operators in the Northern Prawn Fishery. It is the first time a psychology-based Sentis safety program has been applied in the marine sector.

The research manager for the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, Kylie Brettschneider, says feedback from the Sentis program was promising, encouraging positive behaviour change in the marine sector. She says the marine sector remains one of Australia’s most dangerous workplaces, losing more than 800 working weeks to injury for every 1000 employees over the period 2008-09 to 2011-12.

The goal of the PIHSP is to improve the health and safety of workers and their families in primary industries across Australia. The PIHSP is coordinated through the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation.  

More information

Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (since print publication, this organisation has become 'AgriFutures')

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