National project promoting lobstermen safety lands in Southport, Boothbay Harbor

National Institute for Safety and Health promoting lobstermen wearing lifejackets
Fri, 05/03/2019 - 8:00am

There is a lot more to Cooperstown, New York than the Baseball Hall of Fame. It’s also home to the Northeast Center for Occupational Health and Safety which is conducting a nationwide safety program geared toward safety for lobstermen.

The center began sponsoring “Lifejackets for Lobstermen” three years ago. A study showed man-overboard incidents  in the lobster industry accounted for an inordinately high number of fatalities and injuries. “Most of these incidents involved a lobsterman not wearing a lifejacket,” said NCOHS research scientist Erin Lally. “A survey showed most lobstermen didn’t wear a personal flotation device. So we started interviewing lobstermen in Maine and Massachusetts for feedback on why they weren’t wearing them.”

Research showed fishermen viewed lifejackets as too bulky which restricted movement and had too many buttons and straps which made the devices more vulnerable to dangerous situations. So the center forwarded lobstermen’s recommendations to manufacturers. This resulted in an improved lifejacket model the NCOHS is displaying to Maine and Massachusetts lobstermen.

Lally and fellow research scientist Amanda Roome began visiting Maine and Massachusetts locations in April providing local lobstermen with newly designed lifejackets based on their recommendations. On May 1 and 2, the two researchers brought their “Lifejackets for Lobstermen” van to Southport and Boothbay Harbor hoping to convince local fishermen to sample the new designs. 

“They’ve told us lifejackets are super bulky and all the straps and buttons make it harder to work. So these new designs incorporated their feedback and hopefully lobstermen will start using these new lifejackets. In a man-overboard situation, cold water makes it hard to move your arms and legs. If a lobsterman isn’t able to move then the lifejackets would keep them afloat in these situations,” Roome said. 

The project began in 2016. The research scientists usually travel in two vans but only took one to Southport based on limited parking space at Robinson’s Wharf. On May 2, the two were stationed at Fish Pier in Boothbay Harbor, and they plan a third Lincoln County stop on Friday in South Bristol. The tour ends in November.

NCOHS is sponsored by the National Institute for Health and Safety which is part of the Centers for Disease Control.