Offshore InjuryBlog

Deck Winch Accidents & How to Prevent Them

Deck winches serve various purposes on a maritime vessel. They can be used for anchoring, towing, mooring, pulling, and lifting or lowering heavy objects like nets. Installed on the deck of a ship, an electric or hydraulic winch can do a considerable amount of work in a short amount of time. Winches must be properly operated and maintained, however, or serious accidents can occur.

Seamen and rig workers can experience entanglement, crush injuries, and other severe trauma from deck winch accidents, making their safe operation a priority on any vessel.

About Deck Winches

Winches are used to haul or lift objects by winding a rope, cable, or chain around a rotating drum. They can be hand-powered by turning a crank or may be motorized. When used on maritime vessels, winches are typically installed on the rear of the deck, but the location of installation may depend on the type of vessel and the winch’s purpose.

A Real Example of a Deck Winch Accident

Deck winches are powerful pieces of equipment, and they must be operated with care. A single act of carelessness or lack of communication can have disastrous results.

Take a real-life example involving a deck winch accident that left a crew member with a broken leg. The worker was operating a winch on his own when he noticed that the line was beginning to form a loop, which would cause it to be miswound into the drum. He attempted to fix the problem by nudging the line with his right foot while the winch was still in motion, but his foot got caught in the loop and he was dragged toward the winch. The worker let go of the spring-loaded lever that operated the winch, effectively shutting it down, but there was a stop delay when the winch turned off. He was dragged about 6 feet across the deck, stopping just as his body reached the winch drum.

At first, the other crew members were unaware of what had happened because the worker was on his own. When two crew members noticed, they rushed over to help. Unfortunately, they accidentally moved the lever in the wrong direction, momentarily causing the worker to be pulled closer to the winch drum instead of further away. They fixed their mistake quickly and freed the worker. He ended up with a fractured femur and back injuries. He was lucky – had the line pulled him in another foot or two, his injuries would have likely been fatal.

Why Do Deck Winch Accidents Happen?

Accidents like the one above don’t just “happen.” They have causes, and those can be identified by investigating the incident itself, the circumstances leading up to it, the winch, and what safety and training standards were implemented on the vessel. For example, the worker we talked about above should have been properly trained on how to operate a winch, he should not have been working alone, and the winch level should have been clearly labeled so the crew members who assisted him would have pulled it the right way.

Deck winch accidents may happen when:

  • Workers are not properly trained on operating or working near a winch
  • Deck winches are defective or are improperly inspected, maintained, and repaired
  • Deck winches are used outside the scope of their capabilities or weight restrictions
  • Employers overlook safety standards regarding winch operations

Preventing Deck Winch Accidents

Deck winch accidents can cause amputation, crush injuries, broken bones, falls overboard, and even death. Like nearly all maritime accidents, they are preventable.

Deck winch injuries can be prevented by:

  • Removing or securing jewelry, long hair, or anything that could become tangled in a line
  • Keeping decks free from hazards that could cause a worker to trip and fall into a winch
  • Routinely inspecting and maintaining deck winches and all their parts
  • Making sure workers are trained on how to safely operate a winch
  • Making sure crew members work in teams while operating a deck winch
  • Installing emergency shut-off switches, guards, and grab bars
  • Regularly inspecting winch lines for irregularities or damage

Maritime employers are obligated to provide workers with the right training, tools, and safety equipment so they can do their jobs without fear of suffering this type of life-altering trauma. When they don’t protect their crews, they should be held accountable.

At Arnold & Itkin, we fight for offshore workers who have been harmed in any type of maritime accident. We recognize the hazards that crews face every single day, and we know how to identify instances of employers ignoring safety standards or failing to properly train their workers. Our offshore injury attorneys help workers seek compensation for medical bills, lost earnings, ongoing care, emotional trauma, and more under the Jones Act, Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, and other applicable maritime laws so they can rebuild their lives.

To find out how we can help after a deck winch accident, call (888) 346-5024 today. Your consultation is free and private.

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