Wednesday, May 9, 2018

PFDs Save Lives, But Many Still Don’t Wear Them

Fatal falls overboard keep commercial fishing in the top ranks of most dangerous jobs in America, and yet many commercial harvesters still resist wearing the personal floatation devices (PFD) that might save their lives in such incidents.

A new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that from 2000 through 2016 a total of 204 commercial fishermen died from unintentional falls overboard, including 51 – or 25 percent of the total – in Alaska. One hundred and 20 of those victims were employed as deckhands, nine of them had taken formal marine safety training.

According to the CDC, the majority of those falls were not witnessed, however, for the 83 that were and rescue attempts made, 22 victims were recovered, but none successfully resuscitated. In all instances, none of the victims was wearing a PFD at the time of death.

One of the authors of the study, epidemiologist Samantha Case, said some harvesters still think PFDs are too big and bulky or think of them as an entanglement hazard. Others found them effective but had a fatalist attitude about falling overboard.

Jerry Dzugan, of the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association (AMSEA) said he feels progress is being made in getting more harvesters to wear PFDs, but it is at a minimal rate.

In every workshop host by AMSEA, instructors present each group of 18 participants with a variety of PFDs available on the market and one or two in each class will say they plan on buying one, although he cannot confirm if they actually do. “The other problem is the old cultural bias against wearing them,” said Dzugan, “that they are not macho.” Historically, there is an emotional reason why some people don’t wear them, fatalism, but on the bright side, he is finding younger harvests more open to the idea about using them.

The study is available online at

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