Wednesday, April 2, 2014

NIOSH Video Highlights the Use of Personal Flotation Devices in Cold Water Survival in Alaska

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has just released a new safety video that recounts the 2010 sinking of the salmon setnet skiff Paul Revere in Alaskan waters and how the crew survived through the use of personal flotation devices (PFDs). The crew attributes their survival to the use of inflatable PFDs that kept them above the waves without expending energy.

The new video, Paul Revere: A Story of Survival in Bristol Bay, includes interviews with the skiff’s skipper, Shannon Ford, and her crewman, Don Ward, where they recount the events of 2010 that led to their being thrown into the cold waters of Bristol Bay, Alaska while setting their fishing gear for the upcoming season. Shannon and her crew survived over 2 hours in the water, much longer than most people think is possible in Alaska.

The 10-minute video challenges the common perception that falling into cold water is an instant death sentence. While it is true that cold water immersion can lead to death in minutes with the onset of swimming failure (a condition where the movement of the arms and legs can no longer be controlled and coordinated resulting in drowning), death from hypothermia takes hours. A PFD eliminates the need to tread water and can insulate the body, slowing the onset of hypothermia. With the help of PFDs, the crew was able to conserve energy for getting to shore, rather than having to expend energy to survive.

Changing perceptions and raising awareness of the existence of comfortable and easy-to-use PFDs can help reduce the number of man overboard fatalities in commercial fishing. Between 2000 and 2012, 191 commercial fishermen died in man overboard accidents. Only one of these was wearing a PFD when they went into the water. NIOSH hopes that sharing Shannon’s story will encourage other commercial fishermen to find comfortable PFDs and wear them while working on deck. With the right equipment, commercial fishing fatalities from cold water immersion are preventable; personal flotation devices prevent fishermen deaths.

The story of the Paul Revere is now available and streaming on the NIOSH YouTube Channel: . It is also highlighted on the NIOSH Fishing Topic Page: read more about the Paul Revere story, visit the NIOSH Science Blog:

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