New OSU research is fixated on commercial crabbing injuries and solutions

CORVALLIS, Ore. (KGW) — Oregon’s commercial crabbing season is well underway and deckhands are pulling heavy crab pots every day. But as they do, they are often paying a price with back and shoulder injuries.

 Now Oregon State University researchers are working with commercial fishers to lessen the problem.

Commercial fishing is a labor-intensive business and crabbing may be hardest on the body.

That’s because of what’s required to harvest Dungeness crab from the Pacific Ocean floor. The pots that go out must come back in; a power winch does that. But then it’s all muscle, coming from deckhands over and over again. That leads to a high percentage of injuries.

“And many of those injuries actually happens from the deckhands and while they are dealing with the fishing gear, crab pots and things like that,” said OSU Associate Professor Jay Kim, who leads the lab in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences.

Kim says their study shows 80 to 85 percent of commercial fishermen have experienced musculoskeletal disorders or injuries, with most to the lower back and shoulders.

Now OSU is working to fine tune a piece of equipment that commercial fishers developed called a “banger bar”, used on some boats to make the emptying of crab pots less taxing for crews who bang the pot against the bar in a more ergonomic position.

Researchers are in the lab studying how the banger bar works and how it affects the body. Using electrode sensors and 3-D motion capture cameras, they can gather information that can help improve its use.

For instance, Kim said, “Height matters, so what would be the good level of the bar height for the fishermen to bang their crab pot against the crab to release those crabs without bending their back and shoulder too much.”

Kim says he’s met a lot of those in the fishing industry while working in partnership with them and they’ve been great, with everyone looking to make the job of commercial fishing a little less stressful.

“Having the bar could alleviate their back and shoulder strains. And we’d like to work with them to provide the information to the population to make their workplace safer.”

The team is working on a subsequent study focused on how the height of the crab sorting table affects fishermen’s bodies. Future research will also look at the “block,” the crane mechanism that hauls crab pots up from the water, and how to minimize the risk of injury from pulling in the crab-pot line.

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