Noise; heavy, awkward weights; cold, wet weather — it’s all part of a fisherman’s life. It also helps make “commercial fishing the most challenging ergonomic environment,” said Jerry Dzugan, executive director of the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association in a Wednesday morning talk titled “Strains, Sprains and Pains: Ergonomics in the Maritime Industry."

“Anything to do with the body is an ergonomic issue,” said Dzugan. That’s another way of saying the goal of a smart work environment is to adapt the work station to be as efficient and comfortable as possible for the workers.

Jerry Dzugan. Photo: Doug StewartA simple principle is that the further a weight is from the body the more the body is stressed. So a fish plant worker constantly bending over a large table to pull halibut to her would be better served with a narrower table so she wouldn’t have to bend over as much.

Dzugan gave several examples of proper posture when handling heavy weights and some surprising examples of the forces at play on a body. One photo showed a 6-foot 2-inch, 185-pound man reaching out to pick up a pen. Dzugan says that action has the same compressive forces on the body as lifting an 80-pound box.

Translate that to fishing and “a fisherman bending over to pick up line all day off the deck could end up with 1,000 pounds of compressive forces on his back by the end of the day,” said Dzugan.

It didn’t take long before the audience was grasping the difference between good and poor work habits. So when Dzugan offered up a photo on the screen of deck hands loading crab into a brailer and asked from ergonomic point of view what was wrong in the photo, several people pointed out that the brailer was too high. Throwing the crabs into the brailer meant the deckhands had to lift the crabs above their shoulders over and over again, risking an injury to the shoulders. The simple solution: lower the brailer.

Visit the AMSEA booth — 1128 — or their website to get your own pocket guide to ergonomics.

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