US health and safety body issues $1.8m research grant for work on safer ladder design

A $1.8m grant from the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has been awarded to the University of Pittsburgh to create ladder designs that lower the risk of falls.

The funding will be used to measure ladder design against two factors: required friction and available friction.

Available friction occurs between a shoe and ladder rung. Slips occur when this falls below a certain value. This kind of friction will be measured using a device that simulates a slip under controlled conditions, with some experiments taking place using slippery rungs to simulate adverse weather conditions.

To determine the required friction needed, force plate technology will be installed onto rungs to collect force and motion data.

The researchers will build on preliminary findings from the University of Pittsburgh’s Human Movement & Balance Laboratory.

According to the University of Pittsburgh and the NIOSH, ladder injuries account for 16% of fatal and 26% of non-fatal workplace injuries, and lead to costs of about $24bn a year.

Older adults, inexperienced climbers and people with lower body strength are more at risk.

Kurt Beschorner, a researcher at the university, said: "This award gives us an opportunity to develop a mechanistic model to see how these individual factors influence fall risk.

"We will study these measurements of friction and how they relate to slipping in order to establish safety guidelines, which will hopefully lead to a significant reduction in severe injuries and fatalities in both the workplace and at home."

Image courtesy of the University of Pittsburgh/Ric Evans

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