Looking into why a winch fail-safe never took off

The e-stop button on a Kolstrand winch. (Photo by Kayla Desroches / KMXT)

Kayla Desroches/KMXT

The emergency stop button on a machine could mean the difference between a lost finger and a lost arm. And when it comes to one machine on fishing vessels – winches – the risk is there.

So, why aren’t more fishermen in Alaska buying into an emergency stop button that’s been around since 2007?

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, or NIOSH, is trying to find out.


Vendors gather in a room for Kodiak’s annual commercial fisheries trade show, ComFish.

Brad Tibbs is manning the booth for Kolstrand, a fisheries equipment business based out of Seattle.

Kolstrand sells their winches with optional emergency stop buttons.

But Tibbs says they haven’t taken off.

“The thing that we’ve been fighting constantly for the 10 years that we’ve worked on this project has been a cost issue.”

He says the model at the booth goes for around $18,000. Adding the e-stop kit cranks up the price another $3,000.

Tibbs says many fishermen on smaller vessels are reluctant to make the investment.

“A lot of guys see the use for it. I’ve talked to lots of salmon skippers that have actually been injured themselves by winches, and some of them were almost career ending injuries, but yet they opt not to spend the money to be able to put that safety system in place because they don’t really see the likelihood of that happening again.”

A couple of NIOSH representatives are in Alaska trying to talk to figure out why e-stop buttons aren’t catching on.

Tristan Victoroff says a high number of nonfatal injuries are associated with winches and NIOSH developed the e-stop button in 2007 as a preventative measure. Yet, so far, they’ve found that only 2 percent of purse seiners have signed on.

Victoroff spoke to a small audience at ComFish and appealed to any fishermen in the room.

“Contact us, participate in our study. We’d like to do a little more in-depth interviews to figure out things like price point or things like what else might be a viable option. Or how can we move this innovation – if not to the point where everybody’s got one, at least to the point where it’s more common than it is now.”

He says there are a number of other things NIOSH is developing, and they want to make sure their next tool is more widely used.

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