Watch Your Step
And avoid a trip you don’t want to take
by David A. Kolman, Senior Editor
If you’re like me, you typically don’t give much thought to getting in and out of trucks, especially if you’re in a hurry. It’s one of those things that every driver does many times a day, almost intuitively. And that means you could be in for a world of hurt.
Steps, grab handles or rails and deck plates can create problems if they are rusted, worn, bent, loose, have sharp edges, are covered with mud, grease or other contaminants. These all-too-common conditions can cause slips and falls that result in serious injuries.
According the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), truck drivers are more likely to suffer an injury as a result of a slip or fall than they are as a result of an on-the-road accident. Roughly half of all driver injuries that result in lost time can be attributed to slips, trips and falls.
Trucking is one of the top five industries with high claims. A study by global insurer Zurich of its workers’ compensation claims for transportation customers revealed that slip, trip and fall related truck driver injuries have resulted in more than $74 million, equaling 24 percent of the overall claim frequency and 25 percent of the overall claim severity over the past three years.
Looking for trouble
When doing your pre- and post-trip walkaround safety inspections, do you look at the condition of the vehicle’s steps, grab handles and deck plates? When was the last time you physically checked for soundness by applying moderate force to ensure that the handles, plates and steps are secure? Do you check for slippery conditions on these ingress and egress aids? I’d bet it’s been a long time since you’ve done these things. It had been for me, but not anymore.
Several months ago I nearly fell off a tractor. I was climbing onto the deck plate when I slipped on some accumulated fifth wheel grease that I hadn’t noticed. Thankfully, I did not fall. I did, however, seriously bang my right knee. (It seems surgery is in my future.)
Use your body
I prevented what could have been a more serious injury because I always use the three points of contact system for getting in and out of a vehicle cab or mounting or dismounting truck bodies and trailers. It’s a simple maneuver where a driver keeps three of his four limbs in contact with the vehicle at all times so only one limb is in motion at any one time. Having three points of contact provides maximum stability and support, reducing the likelihood of slipping and falling. Otherwise, a driver is unstable and easily imbalanced, so any misstep or faulty grip could result in a fall.
That can be more than merely embarrassing. Falls from a height of as low as four feet — about the height of a tractor’s deck plate from the ground — can result in serious injury. The average person’s reaction time as they realize they are slipping is about half a second, and that’s the same amount of time it takes to fall four feet. As you tumble, gravity pulls you down and your speed of descent quickly increases, which means the impact forces increase as well.
So a person falling from a height of four feet will hit the ground with impact forces as high as 12 times a person’s body weight. A 250-pound driver, by way of example, would hit the ground with a force of up 3,000 pounds.
Broken bones, sprained ankles or wrists, scrapes and bruises and worse can be the result of that kind of tumble, and more serious injury could take a driver off the road for a time.
My near fall and hurt knee served as a warning and has caused me to be more conscientious about how I move around my vehicle.
On Your Feet
Tips for avoiding falls
1 Check the condition of grab handles and rails, steps, ladders, deck plates, catwalks, etc., during pre-trip and post-trip safety inspections and make any necessary repairs.
2 Keep such things as tools, gloves, brushes, fire extinguisher, etc., in their proper place and out of the path of entry/exit.
3 Enter and exit facing the vehicle, take sufficient time getting in/out and always use the three points of contact system.
4 Get a firm grip with your hands, not just with your fingertips.
5 Use the ball of your foot on step surfaces, not just the tips of your shoes.
6 Look for obstacles on the ground below before climbing down.
7 Avoid carrying items while entering/exiting so your hands are free to get a more secure grip.
8 Do not use parts of the vehicle that are not designed as handholds or footholds to get on or off.
9 Keep in mind that environmental conditions can affect the “performance” of grab handles, steps and surfaces. Conditions such as snow, ice, rain, mud, grease and even morning dew can increase slip or fall potential, so use extra caution in these instances.
10 Wear the appropriate footwear. It should provide good foot and ankle support and have non-slip soles.