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Biomechanics of Walking on Railroad Ballast.
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Ballast: Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs)

Railroad workers required to frequently walk on ballast could become injured if a slip and fall is experienced. According to a study on the biomechanics of walking on railroad ballast, a worker does not necessarily have to slip, trip or fall for an injury to be suffered. Evidence showing workers have been developing lower extremity musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) because of the high frequency of time spent walking on ballast in order to perform specific job duties led to a study to better determine the risks.

The study was intended to be an investigation into the mechanisms of loading using the lower extremities that could lead to MSDs over time without experiencing a slip, trip or fall. After testing quantified rear foot motion of subjects walking under different conditions that mimicked actual working conditions, the overall finding was that walking on main line ballast significantly increased the biomechanical loading of the lower extremities compared to walking on walking ballast.

The increased stress on workers, reflected in the increased rearfoot range of motion, the increased variability in rearfoot motion, the increased angular velocity and the increased angular acceleration of the rearfoot, when walking on main line ballast indicated the ability over time for chronic and acute lower extremity disorders. Since the study showed a large disparity between main line ballast and walking ballast, the study authors concluded the implementation of walking ballast in locations railroad employees must walk and work can decrease the risk of injury over time.

Use of walking ballast was shown to decrease foot-rolling motions, which could also decrease risk of slips , trips and falls and other injury to feet, ankles, legs and spine. In efforts to increase safety precautions and lessen the risk of railroad injuries, the use of walking ballast has been shown to be an improvement. The ability to identify a mechanism that reduces the risk of MSD injuries and slip, trip and fall injuries was shown by measuring the rearfoot motion. The tests concluded that conforming railroads should place smaller ballast in high traffic locations for workers.

TCRC Division 76 Winnipeg - 2014