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Climbing the Ladder of Safety Success: Erika Pliner receives 2019 Pre-doctoral Young Scientist award from the American Society of Biomechanics

PITTSBURGH (June 6, 2019) … Erika Pliner, a bioengineering PhD candidate at the University of Pittsburgh, received the 2019 Pre-doctoral Young Scientist award from the American Society of Biomechanics (ASB) in recognition of her scientific achievements. Her work with Kurt Beschorner, associate professor of bioengineering in the Swanson School of Engineering, focuses on determining individual, environmental, and biomechanical factors that contribute to ladder fall risk.

“Ladder falls are a frequent and severe source of injuries,” explained Pliner. “Environmental changes - such as ladder setup and design - have been suggested to prevent ladder falls, yet there remains a lack of knowledge on individual factors that influence ladder fall risk; in particular, individual factors that contribute to safe and effective ladder use are unknown.”

According to Pliner, the majority of ladder fall research aims to mitigate factors that initiate a falling event, but individual and environmental factors and the biomechanical responses in response to a climbing perturbation are not well understood. 

Pliner takes a novel, multifaceted approach to determine risk factors. She has tested younger and older adults, designed occupational and domestic-based ladder experiments, and investigated factors that precede and follow a ladder falling event. This advances her long-term goal of reducing injuries by targeting a diverse range of ladder falling events. 

Outcomes from her work have already revealed impactful knowledge to reduce ladder fall injuries. Her work determined that ladders installed too close to a wall or surface dramatically increase slip and fall risk. She explained, “This finding puts many workers at risk, particularly truck and train operators whose ladders are often installed too close to the surface of the vehicle.”

Her work also revealed the importance of upper body strength in recovering from a ladder climbing perturbation. She said, “Strength training and health screenings are safety interventions that can aid in preventing ladder falls.”  

In addition to her safety research, Pliner also dedicates her time to improving diversity in STEM. 

“There is a poor representation of women and minorities in engineering disciplines, which has a negative impact on applicability of research to different populations,” said Pliner. “For example, ladder design has been primarily based on male climbers, affecting the efficacy and inherent fall risk of ladder use for female climbers..”

Pliner believes that relating engineering concepts to student interests may be a useful tool to improve engagement of underrepresented persons in STEM. She aims to promote diversity in these fields by investigating the relationship between student interests and engagement in biomechanical activities.

As the recipient of the Pre-doctoral Young Scientist award, Pliner will present her work at the ASB annual meeting, July 31-August 4, 2019. She is also expected to submit a full-length manuscript for publication in the Journal of Biomechanics. 

“I am delighted that Erika is receiving this recognition for her research accomplishments,” said Beschorner. “Her work with ladder fall risk has the potential to prevent a substantial amount of injuries, and her passion for increasing diversity in STEM will hopefully help make the field of engineering more inclusive.”


Contact: Leah Russell