Workers from fish processing plants around the province gathered at WorkplaceNL headquarters on Thursday to call for a Fish Processing Sector Safety Council that will address the unique safety issues facing their sector.
Workers in this sector have been advocating for a sector safety council for more than a decade.
Industry statistics show that fish processing workers continue to suffer high rates of lost time and workplace injuries. The lost time incident rate for processing plant workers was 56.7 per cent higher than the provincial rate in 2014 and has steadily increased since 2012. Workplace NL has admitted in the past that the fish processing sector is the only sector where safety has not improved over the past decade.
“Fish processing plants can be hazardous workplaces,” said Tina Pretty, FFAW-Unifor Women’s Coordinator. “The occupational illnesses in this sector disproportionately impact women and have gone unaddressed for far too long.”
Research indicates approximately 18 per cent of fish processing workers are affected by crab asthma, an affliction unique to fish processing that stems from exposure to crab proteins found in dust, steam and vapour created during processing. This results in difficulties breathing, chest tightness, wheezing, and coughing.
“We come to work carrying masks and puffers in our lunch bags. Without them, we wouldn’t make it through the day,” said Doretta Strickland, a processing plant worker from Triton. “Workers shouldn’t be forced to pay out of pocket for the tools we need just to be able to breathe while we’re at work.”
Industries with sector safety councils have generally experienced lower worker’s compensation rates and a decline in lost time and soft tissue incidence rates. Council are currently in place for forestry, construction, municipalities and fish harvesting.
The provincial government has expressed support for a standalone sector safety council for fish processing. Alone in their opposition to the council is the membership of the Association of Seafood Producers who are ignoring their responsibility, as a major employer in rural communities, to ensure a safe and healthy work environment for their employees.
“Enough is enough,” continued Strickland. “WorkplaceNL could make this right today. They have the power to create a council and take steps to make our workplaces safer. Processing workers can’t wait any longer.”