Using tools to reduce injuries in the field

We recently collaborated with Appalachian Power to help them evaluate walking aids and technique for their folks who are out in the field. Appalachian Power has experienced some injuries due to slips and trips with their lineman. After a lot of analysis, two avenues for improvement were identified. First, their workers were constantly struggling with steep, uneven terrain. Loose rocks, branches, or other debris often create shifting surfaces which are hard to anticipate. While Slip SimulatorTM training has made a huge impact on their workforce in reducing slips, trips and falls, very steep hills and loose surfaces present a challenge even when using proper walking technique. Secondly, there was opportunity for injury with workers carrying heavy loads out into the field. Some groups carry upwards of 40 pounds of tools and gear into remote locations. Carrying these loads in a safe fashion is crucial to reducing the risk of not only slips, trips and falls, but over-exertion injuries and sprains and strains.

Similar to hikers, Appalachian Power employees are continuously walking on steep, uneven and loose terrain in a variety of weather conditions. Because of this, an AEP employee suggested implementing walking sticks into the worker routine when out in the field. Industrial Biodynamics agreed that the use of walking sticks would increase the individual’s base of support, which in turn allow them to react to their body becoming off balance on uneven terrain, and help catch stumbles before they break into an uncontrolled fall. A big advantage of walking sticks is that they provide support without widening your foot stance. The more you widen your foot stance to increase the base of support (and stability), the more susceptible you are to slipping when pushing off, and it is also a lot more difficult to bring a foot forward when reacting to a trip. Walking sticks provide that wide base of support, but allow your feet to keep moving in a tight, controlled manner and keep your center of mass centered over your feet.

We recommend using two sticks when possible for maximum stability. Appalachian Power created a great video which provides some great pointers on how to adjust and position your walking sticks for maximum comfort and support. Check it out at the bottom of this post.

Appalachian Power workers have to carry a lot of tools and gear out into the field to get their job done. Carrying 30 pounds is no small feat, and combine that with unpredictable terrain and weather, and you’re faced with some serious hazards. To explore this problem, we conducted several balance experiments on the Slip SimulatorTM where individuals carried bagged loads in a variety of positions; from carrying it all in one hand, both hands, one shoulder, and carrying it on both shoulders. We used in-house equipment to measure their dynamic stability as they walked on the Slip SimulatorTM. The data validated what we could see with our eyes. The dynamic balance data clearly showed that individuals are most stable and less likely to slip when the load is carried properly on their backs using backpacks. The second most stable position was keeping the load close to the chest with both arms. Perhaps the least stable is when they are carrying the load in one arm; if they initiate a slip then the bag tends to pull them down to that side without much hope of regaining balance. This led us to confirm using a backpack for carrying heavy loads, especially in uneven and unpredictable terrain, was a much safer method.

Backpacks help place the load as close to the body as (comfortably) possible. Carrying loads close to your body center not only reduces the risks of strains and sprains of the arms, shoulders, and lower back, but also provides a more stable position for standing and walking. A properly positioned backpack will center the load over the shoulders and hips, distributing the load as much as possible instead of focusing it on one portion of the body. Check out the Appalachian Power video which has a great discussion on fitting and using a backpack properly.


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Appalachian Power: Preventing Slips and Falls