IRSST - Institut de recherche Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail

Safe and Ergonomic Design Criteria for Haulers and Trap Racks on Québec Lobster Boats


Commercial fishing is recognized as being one of the most dangerous industrial activities worldwide. With that in mind, between 2012 and 2014, two research projects were carried out in the Gaspé and the Magdalene Islands. The first analyzed the work activities aboard lobster boats, the risk of overboard falls and their determining factors, while the second was a study of hauler and trap rack designs. This research draws on those studies and focuses on improving the ergonomics and safety of those two pieces of equipment. The objectives are as follows: (1) to show the advantages of certain hauler and trap rack designs, in terms of effectiveness, safety and ergonomics; (2) to formulate design parameters and study the feasibility of them being implemented when existing layouts are being modified; (3) to demonstrate this feasibility with three prototypes; and (4) to describe and analyze the co-design process with lobster fishers.

The identification of risks, practices and safe designs with respect to the two workstations was based on the analysis of previously recorded video footage of working situations on some 20 lobster boats, which were representative of the fleet of some 500 units operating in that region. The results of these analyses were validated by the participating crews.

Using a systemic approach integrating the knowledge gained through the analysis of reference situations, the prevention objectives pursued, and existing practices and equipment, a design team came up with two systems to help ensure safe and ergonomic operating procedures. The two systems use different types of hauler: a swivel hauler mounted on an angled davit, in use in the Gaspé, and a stationary hauler mounted on the deck, an adaptation of the low stationary hauler used in the Magdalene Islands. For both systems, a divider panel and a trap rack with a receptacle to hold the lines was suggested, to keep them away from the fishers’ feet. These concepts were validated and improved by a follow-up committee made up of regional sectorial representatives and a committee of experts that included fishers and the research team. The workers from the welding shops, who play an important role in the development of systems, were also involved in the design and implementation process.

The new equipment was installed on three lobster boats (two in the Gaspé and one in the Magdalene Islands), which made it possible to take into account the diversity of the fleet and equipment. In all, 13 trips out to sea took place before and after the modifications, in order to measure the impact on the activities and the levels of risk. Slightly more than 72 hours of video and audio recordings were made and analyzed to study the design and manufacturing process and the trials at sea.

The study showed that it is possible to upgrade the equipment at the two workstations to lower the risk of falling on deck or overboard, while also making them more ergonomic. The two systems under study could be installed on lobster boats that haul up their trawls from the stern, which is the case for about 80% of the units operating in that region. It is also quite possible that this type of equipment modification could be applied to lobster boats operating out of the North Shore. Any other fishing activity that uses strings of traps could also benefit.

The design parameters were formulated and illustrated using diagrams, photos and, as need be, the boats’ dimensions. These parameters and the visual material gathered during the research could be used as knowledge transfer tools. To that end, the stakeholders consulted favoured the production of a demonstration video and a design guide addressed to fishers and welding shop workers.

The research also showed that sectorial momentum to improve safety and the ergonomics of lobster boats is gathering, providing the opportunity to partner with and support captains who want to adapt their equipment to make it safer. This project’s participatory approach, which relied on the implication and collaboration of the fishers involved, could facilitate technological transfers. Given the specific culture of this activity sector, an approach aimed at eliciting cooperation, and at convincing and supporting fishers should be used.

Additional Information

Category: Research Report
  • Francis Coulombe
  • Sylvie Montreuil
  • Jean-Guy Richard
  • Michel Tremblay
Research Project: 2014-0021
Online since: April 03, 2018
Format: Text