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Take it from the one-eyed skipper: improving deck safety is a worldwide challenge

The veteran skipper was winching up his vessel's anchor when a longline snapped. Within seconds, the line tore across the front of his face, inflicting such severe damage that he ended up losing an eye.

This 2012 accident, to a man from New Zealand, is only one example of how injuries from dangerous equipment remain all too common in the commercial fishing industry, both in the U.S. and around the world.

Here are three things to know about efforts to improve deck safety and reduce injuries and deaths on fishing vessels.

Injuries suffered on deck are the most common type of non-fatal injuries among commercial fisherman in the U.S.

This finding is the result of research conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

Some of those injuries are attributable to slips and falls on wet decks in rolling seas. But others are due to faulty equipment, such as winches and hydraulic haulers. Ropes - coiled or not - are also a source of risk.

We wrote about efforts to make winches safer in a post last month.

Learning improved safety and survival techniques requires the opportunity to practice.

Techniques such as how to fit into an immersion suit quickly or how to use a personal flotation device have to become a matter of muscle memory in order to be used effectively in an emergency.

It isn't only enough to have an idea in your head about what to do. You have to get a chance to practice safety and survival techniques, such as by jumping in the water in a training setting to experience what it's like to go overboard.

Commercial fishing enterprises need to do a better job of making sure their workers get this training.

In New Zealand, industry officials are stepping up safety training initiatives after a survey showed that more than 1 in 4 commercial fishing workers have had a significant injury.

The survey, conducted by Neilsen, found that the percentage of crew members with a significant injury was 28 percent. Another 26 percent had had a near-miss.

The results of the survey have spurred action by New Zealand's Federation of Commercial Fishermen. The Federation has launched a year-long initiative called Safe Crews Fish More, focusing on safety issues that include winches, uncovered machinery and the effects of fatigue on crew members.

This comparative perspective shows that improving commercial fishing safety is a worldwide challenge that goes far beyond the U.S.

 

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