While an extremely practical part of the shipping trade, a winch—the hauling or lifting device that enables loading and unloading goods—can be a dangerous thing to operate. You are not only dealing with extremely heavy and sometimes hazardous materials but also the pressurization of the rope, cable or chain involved.

It’s possible for grievous injury to result from winches, such as body part entanglement in the drum or getting hit in the face with a weighty cable. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration recommends all barge workers observe the following safety procedures when operating winches:

  • Never use your hand to spool the winch line. Rather, use a tool to directly touch the line.
  • Enclose the drum in a cage, if possible.
  • Stay 15 degrees on either side of a winch line under tension. Never enter the danger zone within those parameters.
  • Never walk over the drum.
  • Regularly check the winch system for deterioration.
  • Keep a close eye on the line and cable system for signs of damage.
  • Request that a guard or wall be installed to protect you, the winch operator, from whiplash coming from the cables
  • Never stand in the bight of a line, aka the slack of the winch line.

As a river worker, you know the dangers of your profession all too well. But you should also know that there are legal protections in place to help you recover from injury, both medically and financially. It is likely that most serious injuries qualify for damages under either a workers’ compensation claim, or the protections afforded under the Jones Act. If you should suffer an injury on the job, explore the options available to you.