SALT LAKE CITY — Slipping and falling can be among the more common causes of workplace injuries, especially for workers whose jobs involve being out in inclement weather.
A local utility company is using a new apparatus to help teach its employees a technique for walking that can help make their work environment and elsewhere a little bit safer.
Stepping into the slip simulator on the Salt Lake City property of Dominion Energy is sort of like strapping into a bungee harness. Sturdy straps are fastened around the torso as well as around both legs from back to front through the pelvic region. Then to make sure you're securely fastened, the subject is asked to allow their feet to come off the ground so you can be assured your body is buckled up and will not fall to the ground.
Soon after, the subject is fitted with pullover shoe covers and specially designed shoe soles that create an even slicker experience than under normal pavement conditions. Once you're locked in, a tester asks the subject to walk normally across a wet, slippery surface set up in a trailer that is outfitted for the purpose of helping teach employees how to walk in the safest manner possible when navigating slick surfaces.
For years, the company used to tell workers to "walk like a duck," but new research has shown that walking "like a soldier" is a better way to step.
"The slip simulator gives our employees the opportunity to apply a new walking method," explained Mark Maldonado, senior safety specialist with Dominion Energy. "This gives you the ability to actually use (the technique) and see the difference and get that immediate feedback."
Some come in kind of hesitant and noncommittal until they actually try it. Then they are really impressed and positive about the difference that it makes using those movements.
–Mark Maldonado, Dominion Energy
He said once the employees get to experience the difference of standing more upright while taking short, choppy (flat-footed) steps compared to heel-toe movements, they are soon convinced of the inherent superiority of the new walking method.
"Some come in kind of hesitant and noncommittal until they actually try it," he said. "Then they are really impressed and positive about the difference that it makes using those movements."
He said the intent is to keep as much of the surface area of one's shoe in contact with the ground as possible, creating less chance for slippage.
"We're trying to eliminate all the heel-toe and trying to land flat-footed," Maldonado said. "The shorter, choppier steps help."
While the company has only used the simulator technology locally for a few weeks, its impact is already being recognized by long-tenured workers who have spent years managing the perils of slippery surfaces outdoors and indoors, said Lee Mettmann, operations lead specialist with Dominion Energy.
The experience created "a heightened awareness" of how he should walk in challenging conditions from now on, said the 39-year company veteran.
"This long being out in the field, I've been exposed to a lot of icy conditions," he said. "In the simulator, I realized (how) I was walking and this (experience) does help me think about it a little bit more."
Having the new technique should make things safer in the workplace, he said.
"Now it's an awareness issue," he said. "I can also pass this information along to my family and help them understand that it makes a difference."
Brad Markus, general manager of customer relations for Dominion Energy, also participated in the slip simulator training and was impressed by what he learned.
"I liked it because it helped me to understand that under slippery conditions, marching flat-footed in short steps really does make a difference," he said. "If you had told me that (previously), I might not have understood it, but experiencing it makes all the difference."
A native Utahn, he added that the ease of the training made it easy to learn and put into practice the principles of "walking like a soldier" and the immediate benefits gained from it.
"I like the idea that it (also) helps me at home in my personal life as well, not just my work life," Markus said. "Especially as people get a little older and walking gets a little harder. This could help them understand (how to perform) a safer walk."
Maldonado said the company plans to expand its slip simulator training to other divisions nationwide.