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Footwear effects on walking balance at elevation

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The study evaluated the effects of shoe style on workers' instability during walking at elevation. Twenty-four construction workers performed walking tasks on roof planks in a surround-screen virtual reality system, which simulated a residential roof environment. Three common athletic and three work shoe styles were tested on wide, narrow and tilted planks on a simulated roof and on an unrestricted surface at simulated ground. Dependent variables included lateral angular velocities of the trunk and the rear foot, as well as the workers' rated perceptions of instability. The results demonstrated that shoe style significantly affected workers walking instability at elevated work environments. The results highlighted two major shoe-design pathways for improving walking balance at elevation: enhancing rear foot motion control; and improving ankle proprioception. This study also outlined some of the challenges in optimal shoe selection and specific shoe-design needs for improved walking stability during roof work. The study adds to the knowledge in the area of balance control, by emphasising the role of footwear as a critical human-support surface interface during work on narrow surfaces at height. The results can be used for footwear selection and improvements to reduce risk of falls from elevation.
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Keywords: construction; footwear; height; roof; virtual reality; walking balance

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Division of Safety Research, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Morgantown, WV, USA

Publication date: December 1, 2008

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