Deck winches are commonly used on fishing boats to reel in nets, anchors, cages, and other equipment. Winches allow significant manual labor to be done mechanically, but they can be dangerous and even deadly for workers onboard.
While there are particular safety requirements—including emergency stop devices—to protect workers, not all vessel owners have done everything possible to reduce the risk of injury. Our Jones Act injury lawyers explain why shipowners are slow to upgrade safety equipment and how maritime employees can collect compensation for a winch injury.
Do Emergency Stops Prevent Jones Act Injuries?
Winches may be vital equipment on a range of vessels, but the speed and strength of their reeling ability can injure or kill a worker in a matter of minutes. Injuries caused by winches, cables, and hawsers typically occur through the following sequence of events:
- Catching. A seaman’s sleeve, hood, pant leg, hair, or glove is caught beneath the coiled cable or in the winch itself.
- Winding. The caught item begins winding around the device, pinning part of the seamen’s body under the tightly-wound cable.
- Injury. Depending on how the seaman was entrapped in the device, they could suffer the amputation of a hand, arm, or finger; neck or back injuries from being dragged by the head; or dismemberment of a foot or leg. As these injuries are often violent, the incident could also result in death by crushing, shock, or excessive blood loss.
One of the most effective ways to stop winch entanglement injuries is by equipping the device with an emergency stop (E-stop). Seamen caught in the winch may be pulled away from the controls, preventing them from reversing the bale. E-stops are push buttons installed on the horn of the winch itself, immediately cutting the power and locking the winch in place to prevent further spooling.
Any vessel with a capstan winch, crane, or other high-capacity lifting machinery should have an E-stop device installed to prevent entanglements. While these devices are now widely available, not all shipowners have done their due diligence to install them on their vessels.
Owners Slow to Install Emergency Stops on Fishing Boats
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has warned fishermen and shipowners of the dangers of unguarded winches for decades. The NIOSH Commercial Fishing Incident Database (CFID) identified 35 severe work-related fishing entanglement injuries, including eight fatal injuries, caused by deck winches in the Southern shrimp fleet between 2000 and 2011. In response, the agency began partnering with vessel owners to install bumper “kill” switches at the head of their winches.
Many new ships have E-stops installed on heavy machinery as standard features, but older vessels may still need to be upgraded to current safety standards. Although the cost of retrofitting an E-stop is only a few thousand dollars, some shipowners may not see the cost benefit of installing these devices—increasing the chances of permanent injuries.
Safety Tips to Prevent Jones Act Injuries Near Hawsers and Winches
According to NIOSH, maritime workers are at increased risk of winch injuries during line leveling, retrieving wore rope, working the catheads, and operating try-net winches. In addition to entanglements, workers can also be hurt by the sudden parting of a steel hawser. As the frayed end of the cable spins around the winch, nearby workers may suffer lacerations, broken bones, or irreversible eye injuries.
Any merchant seaman or fisherman working with ropes, cables, and hawsers must be fully trained on both their operation and safety measures, including measures to take if entanglement occurs. Non-essential crew members should also be prohibited from entering areas where hawsers are under tension, such as on tugboat towing decks.
Get Help From a New York Maritime Injury Lawyer
Are you a victim of a deck winch accident? No matter what caused your injuries, there might be a way for you to get the financial help you deserve. Thanks to the Jones Act, you could qualify for coverage and compensation. The legal team at Hofmann & Schweitzer can help you navigate the process and get the support you need—and we don’t collect any payment unless we win your case. Call us at 1-800-3-MAY-DAY or learn more about your claim in our complimentary guide, Are You a Seaman Injured in a Maritime Accident? Know Your Rights.