One of the most dangerous pieces of equipment on any fishing vessel is the winch; drum winch, capstan and/or cathead. So many accidents and fatalities have been caused by winch entanglements, that in 2012 the US Coast Guard teamed up with NIOSH after the tragic death of a 15-year-old boy. The boy was killed when his clothing became caught in a winch on a shrimp boat. The accident set in motion a project to study these types of accidents and find solutions.
According to Ted Teske, a Health Communications Specialist with NIOSH, a fisherman who is caught and pulled into the winch has no way to stop the equipment. This is because the turn-off switch is mounted on the back of the wheelhouse, far from the winch and the entanglement. Unless someone is at the controls and can swiftly turn off the winch, it will spin several times before stopping.
Teske helped develop a simple device called an E-Stop, or “emergency stop”, that is accessible to a seaman who is caught or entangled in the winch. This simple device interrupts the flow of hydraulic fluid to the winch during an emergency. The E-Stop mounts right on top of the winch. If a fisherman is caught and pulled into harm’s way, the button is within reach. The entangled worker simply hits the button to stop the winch. The system can easily be reset by a crewmember after detanglment. The kit is easy to install, and the company provides all the materials needed, including a custom button, templates, and the cutting heads needed to cut through the winch horn.
James Burton, the skipper of the F/V KETA, was an early adopter. His brother was caught in a winch in 2008, and never regained full use of his arm and hand. James was first in line to purchase and install the E-Stop when it became available.
“The winches are so dangerous, and I know so many people who have been hurt by one,” Burton said. “Those things can pull 7,000 pounds and if you have a 200-pound guy wrapped up in it, it doesn’t slow down a bit and rips you apart in the process.”
Burton wishes more people would install this life-saving piece of equipment on their boats. Seattle Fishermen’s Memorial agrees. They have partnered with Integrity Machining, Inc. (the supplier of the E-Stop is located in Ballard) and announced a Safety Rebate Program to assist qualifying fishing vessels with the installation. The program will rebate the cost of an E-Stop retrofit kit for qualified Seattle-based fishing vessels. The application is available on their website.
The E-Stop kit can be purchased at Kolstrand and retails for $4387. The E-Stop is an example of a successful and inovative piece of equipment that can protect workers and mitigate the risk of injury from one of the most hazardous pieces of equipment on a vessel.