Hand Winch Safety Tips
First, always know before you use the winch the weight for what you are pulling and how much your winch can support. If the load is too heavy, you can use a snatch block or two separate winches. Otherwise you risk catastrophic failure of the winch. Luckily, most winches today come equipped with a shear pin that breaks free in the even that you load your winch with over its allotted capacity.
If you're going off roading, make sure that you take your gear weight into account, as well as the weight of your cat. If it's possible load up your ATV or off road vehicle with all the gear and equipment that you plan on using, including food and fuel and have it weighed at a weigh station. Doing this will tell you how much your winch needs to lift, which is sometimes up to a thousand pounds more than the actual weight of the vehicle!
Along the same lines, before you buy your winch know if you are going to be pulling objects or lifting them. Hand winches made as hoists are much different than ones made to pull. Once you have a winch, never try to use one that was designed to pull as a lift or hoist. Hoists have more safety features and better locking mechanisms to make sure that their loads don't smash into the ground, destroying the load and possibly injuring people around it.
When you're actually using the winch, always try to run the line as straight as you possibly can to reduce stress on the winch and the cable and also to make the process of winching easier on yourself. It's imperative that you and any bystanders keep clear of the winch cable when you're using it as well. This means stand as far away as you can and do not step over it. In the event of a break, some wire cables may recoil, resulting in nasty injuries for whoever happens to be close.
Finally, whenever you're winching, use work gloves. Work gloves will help to prevent blisters on the hand that's doing the winching and also give you a better grip on the winch handle. It will also prevent any cuts that you may receive from wire strands that have frayed a little.