From Laine Welch in Kodiak –
Falling overboard is a leading cause of death in the most dangerous job — commercial fishing.
“It doesn’t make the big headlines, like when a boat goes down with all hands lost. But these ‘one bys’ really add up,” said Jerry Dzugan, director of the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association.
Simply wearing a personal flotation device, or PFD, could save countless lives, but sadly, fishermen resist using them. Safety advocates are trying to change that by having the fishermen field test new models.
“Since 1990 there have been 83 commercial fishermen in Alaska who have died from falls overboard. Many were in minutes of being rescued when they lost strength and drowned. In those cases, it very clearly could have been prevented with a PFD,” said Devon Lucas an epidemiologist for the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health in Anchorage.
Lucas is leading a study to find out why fishermen forgo PFDs and how to improve the life-saving devices.
“A lot of fishermen tell us that they are bulky, hot, heavy and too uncomfortable to work in,” Lucas said. “We started wondering if the newer models, that are inflatable or integrated into rain gear, would face the same kinds of problems that the older, bulkier foam PFDs did.”
The study aims to get feedback on six new PFDs by having fishermen wear them for a month while they fish on various vessels.
“We know that the different seasons and weather conditions and the type of gear they are operating will probably make fishermen have different preferences,” Lucas said. “Afterwards they will rate the PFDs on how bulky they are: Too tight, if they constrict motion, get snagged in gear, how easy to put on, keep clean, those kinds of things.”
Bering Sea crabbers and trawlers have participated in the PFD study so far, and the NIOSH team will be walking the Kodiak docks this week looking for volunteer longliners. In June they will target the Bristol Bay gillnet fleet, Lucas said.
He added that the response by fishermen has been welcoming.
“This is an issue that fishermen are concerned about and they are ready and willing to look at new ways to solve the problem,” he said. “They especially like the fact that we are asking them to provide their input rather than just assuming what they might like, and testing PFDs with some other groups who aren’t dealing with the same conditions.”
Questions? Contact Devin Lucas at firstname.lastname@example.org or 907-441-8914.
-- Contact Laine Welch at email@example.com.