Crewmember Injured Because of Poor Communication with Machinery Operator

An article in the January 2013 issue of National Fisherman magazine provides a detailed account of an accident this past February in the Bering Sea. The story demonstrates one of the most common causes of maritime accidents: a machinery operator on deck failing to make sure an area is clear and no crewmember is in danger of equipment.

According to National Fisherman, the crew of a catcher-processor had been working feverishly to make up for time lost because of snowfall and poor visibility. Late that evening, a deckhand started climbing up a crane’s side, but realized that it was not completely secured after an engineering maintenance crew had used the crane earlier that day. Fisherman reported that the engineers rarely used the crane and simply tied it off to the forward A-frame’s starboard side when they were finished using it. When the crewman began to release the crane, the deck boss remotely activated the winch without checking to see if the crewman was clear. The unexpected movement of the crane’s winch caused the crewman to lose his footing on the crossbar welded to the winch’s gear train cover. Not only did his foot slip forward off the crossbar and into a bight in the line that had already been reeled onto the winch’s spool drum, but the deck boss was “unaware of the predicament” and continued pulling line onto the spool. The line on the drum quickly cinched down on the crewman’s foot, and the deck boss reversed the winch after the worker shouted for help while three deckhands worked to free him.

The crewman was taken to sickbay, where National Fisherman reported that “the captain and medical personnel determined the injury called for the 20-hour return to port.” While the crewman underwent surgery that saved his extremity after being airlifted to a hospital, his leg was broken in three places. An investigation revealed that fatigue and poor communication were factors in this accident, and National Fisherman stated that the following lessons should be learned:

  • Moving or rotating machinery must be guarded, and all machinery guards should be replaced after work has been completed and prior to start-up.
  • Machinery can be started from remote control stations or by automatic start. Equipment should always be locked off with warning signs posted before it is worked on.

The deck boss should have never activated the winch without knowing that the area was clear of crew members.  Many times, the operators either fail to look to make sure area is clear or the deck boss line of vision is blocked or there is a blind spot.  Through the years, Latti & Anderson LLP has represented many fisherman and merchant seaman who have been injured due to the operator of a piece of equipment failing to check to make sure all crew members were out of the zone of danger and were accounted for.  You can find more information about fishing accidents on our website. If you or a loved one has sustained a serious injury while working on a commercial fishing vessel, you can contact our firm right now at (800) 392-6072 to schedule a free initial consultation or you can use the form on this page to have our Boston maritime trial lawyers review your case.

Latti & Anderson LLP – Boston maritime attorneys