Trips, slips, and falls by Karen Bowen
February 21, 2019This time of year – the season of slippery, icy surfaces – we all need to watch our step and move carefully to avoid falls. Did you know that truckers experience one of the highest number of falls annually when compared to other similar occupations?
For truckers, slips, trips, and falls cause over 30% of all work-related injuries and 50% of these injuries are critical injuries. Over the next few months, you should be particularly careful, since typically, more than half of these falls occur during the winter season.
These falls are costly. A recent North American study shows that each trucker who reports a fall injury will lose an average of 19 work days. As well, one third of all fall injuries are so severe that the trucker requires 29 days off work, significantly impacting an injured trucker’s health and income.
Surprisingly, studies show that the following factors have little or no impact on a driver’s chance of falling: mileage driven; shiftwork (day, night or swing); job type (owner-operator or company driver); exercise routine (in or outside of work); vision (whether or not glasses are prescribed); hand dominance (left-handed, right-handed, or ambidextrous); age; and feeling rested at the beginning of a day.
However, location and other factors do come into play.
Almost 80% of trucker fall injuries occur close to the cab and not the trailer, box, catwalk, etc., and more than half occur when dismounting. Some other factors include: vehicle design, including truck height and step/handhold configurations; environmental influences, such as muscle instability due to prolonged body vibration; and ice, snow, water, or mud covering the ground or step; and personal habits, such as mounting/dismounting techniques, fatigue, coordination, strength, fitness, and body weight.
Another recent study found that 93% of truckers are overweight with a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or higher. Since weight influences the ground impact reaction force and joint torque created when a driver exits the vehicle, carrying excessive weight may lead to falls, especially when the driver’s leg muscles have been inactive and destabilized over hours of driving. Maintaining a healthy weight will help reduce leg strain and the risk of weight-related falls.
Intentional movements can also be effective for avoiding falls. When you first leave the cab after a long run, descend slowly to avoid pulling a muscle – never jump.
When getting in and out, follow the three-point contact rule and make sure that one hand and two feet, or two hands and one foot touch the equipment at all times. Securely grip the handhold (and not the door frame, door edge, etc.) before stepping up or down. Keep your face directed towards the cab to maintain equilibrium.
Before exiting, look for obstacles on the ground that might interfere with a stable landing. When exiting, position your foot firmly on the step/foothold (and not the tire or wheel hub) so that it rests in front of your heel and under your foot’s arch. Keep your free hand empty when climbing down so you can quickly catch your balance, if necessary. If you are removing something from the cab, set it on the truck floor and pick it up after your feet are firmly planted on the ground.
In bad weather, be cautious and move slowly. Monitor all walking surfaces for black ice and obstacles hidden under the snow. Be especially careful on metal surfaces because their lower force of friction and traction make them extremely slick when contaminated with ice, grease, oil, moisture, mud, or dirt. Adjust your movements accordingly when walking on ramps, gang planks, dock boards/plates, as well as rungs, steps, footholds, treads, running boards, and equipment platforms.
When working with flatbeds, which are exposed to the weather, keep your footwear clean and free of ice, snow, mud, grease, or other slippery substances and use a shovel, broom, and rags to ensure all metal surfaces are clean, dry, and safe.
Don’t fall down on the job.