Reducing Strains, Slips, Trips, and Falls

By Cameron Blain
Marketing Manager
ROM Corporation

Recent National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) data shows that of the more than 32,000 accidents that occurred on the fireground in 2010, a majority were attributed to muscles strains, slips, trips, and falls. As a department, keeping our volunteers and full time employees healthy and accident-free improves morale and reduces the likelihood of insurance premiums increasing year after year. So, let’s take a quick walk around the truck to ensure we’re doing all we can to reduce, control, or eliminate common culprits for accidents.

Reducing Muscle Strains-Lifting

One of the biggest chunks of real estate on an apparatus is consumed by compartments. Muscle strains typically occur when performing either a basic or physically demanding task. By definition, a muscle strain can be either torn muscle fibers or tendons. One of the more typical movements that results in a strain is reaching inside the back of a compartment to pick up a piece of equipment. This often causes immediate, sharp pains to the lower back that can extend up into the neck. To reduce muscle strains, start first with what you can control-proper education.

Training new recruits to make these common compartment grabs using ergonomic movements is step one. Yet, often during the adrenaline rush of a big call, we subconsciously take shortcuts to improve response time. Thus, installing roll-out compartment trays may greatly reduce this common injury culprit.

“One of the biggest benefits to roll-out cargo trays,” says Steve Touchton, emergency product manager at ROM, “is that you can store anywhere from 250 to 1,000 pounds of equipment in the tray.” To reach the equipment located in the back of the compartment, a full width release handle, located on the front face of the tray, is engaged. “Once engaged, the entire tray and load move out of the compartment, into the open air. Think of it like opening a silverware drawer.”

(1) Tilt pull-out trays can accommodate loads of 250 to 600 pounds
based on extension requirements. The motion is similar to the straight
model with one exception: During deployment, the tray tilts down
vertically at 25 degrees.
(Photos courtesy of ROM.)

Roll-out trays have become an integral tool in helping many departments reduce strains. Cargo trays can be installed on a fire truck regardless of whether a swing-out or roll-up door is installed. More importantly, cargo trays can be retrofitted to most apparatus.

Touchton continues, “Even when a cargo tray is installed, that alone doesn’t eliminate straining a muscle. So, when unloading a heavy or cumbersome piece of equipment like hydraulic tools, try standing closer to the tray. Many find it helpful to remove equipment from the side of the tray vs. the front face. Taking this preventive measure should greatly reduce muscle strains.”

Even when cargo trays are not installed, Touchton advises to avoid pushing large objects all the way to the back of a compartment. “Obviously, the closer to the front of the shelf, the less likely you’ll have to strain in removing an object.”

The most popular cargo tray is the straight pullout model. The straight tray latches in either an open or closed position and allows the greatest amount of cargo-up to 1,000 pounds at 70 percent extension or 600 pounds at 100 percent extension.

Another popular tray is the tilt pull-out type. Tilt pull-out models can accommodate loads of 250 to 600 pounds based on extension requirements. The motion is similar to the straight model with one exception: During deployment, the tray tilts down vertically at 25 degrees. After both motions are complete, the tray is 90 percent extended in open air.

(2) Many departments have found it beneficial to install super
aggressive grating material on walking surfaces to help eliminate slips
and falls.

Reducing Slips- Step Surfaces

It stands to reason that many fireground accidents occur where slick substances like water, oil, and ice mingle. Again, let’s start first with what we can control like paying attention to where we’re going, shortening our stride, and checking boot tread for adequate traction.

Statistics gathered by the Canadian Centere for Occupational Health and Safety show that 40 percent of slips, trips, and falls occur from moving from one height to another. Does this sound similar to working on a fire truck? If so, let’s consider stepping surfaces for a moment.

Most pumper/tankers have hard suction hose stowed at or just below the full height of the truck. Think through all the surfaces you step on to deploy hard suction lines. Do all these surfaces meet standards established for slip resistance?

If operating a quint, go through the same drill in thinking about where you step in deploying a ladder or hose or operating the aerial. Add variables like freezing temperatures, flowing water, oil or chemical spills, and foams, and you know how slippery working can become.

Many departments have found it beneficial to exceed the spirit of the NFPA recommendations by eliminating the slick, aluminum diamond tread plate installed on most walking surfaces. Agencies, especially those operating in colder climates, have begun installing super aggressive grating material. “Our serrated grating allows 80 percent of snow and elements to pass right through compared to traditional diamond plate or even punched aluminum tread,” says Stephen Lukas, product manager at Bustin. “The swage grating is burr-free and meets NFPA, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), American National Standards Institute (ANSI), and National Association of Architectural Metal Manufacturers (NAAMM) recommendations and standards. Departments are installing our grating on stairwells, pump houses, tops of coffin boxes, tailboards, and anywhere else the foot meets with elements.” Lukas also notes that the company offers several flip-up and hide-away steps.

Reducing Trips and Falls-Scene Lighting

Although a majority of strains and slips can be prevented with precautionary measures, trips and falls become a much more gray area. Many of the trips and falls on the fireground are actually associated with carrying equipment in dim or inadequately lit areas.

To help address this culprit, many departments are specifying LED scene lights. Their popularity comes from two key benefits. First, they operate from battery power and thus free up generator space. Second, there is no bulb or lamp to change. Granted, although they are more costly than other technologies, LED scene lights have experienced significant improvements during the past four years.

When recessed into the body, mounted on a telescoping pole, or mounted on a tower, LED scene lights can supply a substantial amount of illumination during the call. When working extrications or calls where tripods are often deployed, make sure the placement of a tripod and its attached power cord does not become a tripping hazard.

When selecting tripods, do your own research. For example, pay particular attention to how the tripod balances itself when bumped. High wind gusts can often cause a tripod to tip over. To reduce this, select a tripod with large, sturdy legs. Models offering feet that have more material meeting the ground (i.e., footprint) will naturally provide better stability than models with less material meeting the ground.

By applying some of these common sense approaches to lifting, step surfaces, and scene lighting, your department can significantly reduce strains, slips, trips, and falls.

CAMERON BLAIN is marketing manager for ROM, joining the team as part of the company’s August 2011 acquisition of the lighting solutions product line from Havis, Inc. At Havis, Blain served as business development manager, managing large fire OEM accounts. Prior to that, he ran his own marketing agency and entered the industry in 2004 by working for a large apparatus manufacturer.

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