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Postural stability effects of random vibration at the feet of construction workers in simulated elevation.

Simeonov-P; Hsiao-H; Powers-J; Ammons-D; Kau-T; Amendola-A
Appl Ergon 2011 Jul; 42(5):672-681
The risk of falls from height on a construction site increases under conditions which degrade workers' postural control. At elevation, workers depend heavily on sensory information from their feet to maintain balance. The study tested two hypotheses: "sensory enhancement" sub-sensory (undetectable) random mechanical vibrations at the plantar surface of the feet can improve worker's balance at elevation; and "sensory suppression" supra-sensory (detectable) random mechanical vibrations can have a degrading effect on balance in the same experimental settings. Six young (age 20-35) and six aging (age 45-60) construction workers were tested while standing in standard and semi-tandem postures on instrumented gel insoles. The insoles applied sub- or suprasensory levels of random mechanical vibrations to the feet. The tests were conducted in a surroundscreen virtual reality system, which simulated a narrow plank at elevation on a construction site. Upper body kinematics was assessed with a motion-measurement system. Postural stability effects were evaluated by conventional and statistical mechanics sway measures, as well as trunk angular displacement parameters. Analysis of variance did not confirm the "sensory enhancement" hypothesis, but provided evidence for the "sensory suppression" hypothesis. The supra-sensory vibration had a destabilizing effect, which was considerably stronger in the semi-tandem posture and affected most of the sway variables. Sensory suppression associated with elevated vibration levels on a construction site may increase the danger of losing balance. Construction workers at elevation, e.g., on a beam or narrow plank might be at increased risk of fall if they can detect vibrations under their feet. To reduce the possibility of losing balance, mechanical vibration to supporting structures used as walking/working surfaces should be minimized when performing construction tasks at elevation.
Biomechanics; Construction; Construction-industry; Construction-workers; Ergonomics; Musculoskeletal-system; Physiological-function; Physiological-measurements; Physiological-response; Posture; Safety-measures; Surface-properties; Vibration; Vibration-control; Vibration-effects; Vibration-exposure; Work-analysis; Workplace-studies; Author Keywords: Fall prevention; Balance control; Vibration; Sensory suppression
P. Simeonov, Division of Safety Research, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 1095 Willowdale Rd., Morgantown, WV 26505
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Applied Ergonomics