Bike Patrol, Health, and Safety:  Equipment Implications

By Mitch Trujillo, PCI #244T and Donald C. Reed, PCI #195T/EMSCI #035
Boulder PD (CO) and Denver PD (CO)
IPMBA Industry Relations Committee and IPMBA Education Committee

IPMBA mandates four pieces of safety equipment (and strongly recommends a fifth) which must be used by students during IPMBA training courses and should be used on-duty:

  1. A mountain bike in good mechanical condition that fits the rider properly.
  2. A properly fitted bicycle helmet, approved by ANSI, Snell, ASTM, or CPSC.
  3. Shatter-resistant protective eyewear, day and night.
  4. Pedal retention - toe clips/straps, Power Grips, or clipless pedals with appropriate shoes.
  5. Padded cycling gloves.

Public safety cyclists face risks beyond those faced by our non bike-mounted counterparts. IPMBA training teaches us how to minimize some of those risks. In the more than ten years since the IPMBA Police Cyclist Course was introduced, we may have begun to take the safety guidelines for granted. Have you really thought about why IPMBA mandates this equipment? We thought it would be useful to try and take a closer look at IPMBA's basic safety equipment and why we require it, not just from a personal injury prevention standpoint, but from an occupational safety and health perspective.

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) sets federal standards in this country to protect people and businesses from unnecessary risks while at work. Even though state and local government workers are excluded from federal coverage under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (the "OSH Act"), each state operates its own state workplace safety and health program, under plans approved by the U.S. Department of Labor. These programs cover most private sector workers and are also required to extend their coverage to public sector (state and local government) workers in the state.

According to the OSHA administration in Denver, although the government is not bound by OSHA's rules and regulations, most large cities do follow the recommendations. No administrator wants to see employees get hurt while at work, and besides, injury prevention saves money and reduces the risk of lawsuit. Therefore, it is important that any department operating a bike unit keep occupational safety and health issues in mind, even if the state agency does not have specific guidelines in place.

One of benefits of reducing the risk of injury through safe work practices is the avoidance of Worker's Compensation claims. If the employee who is injured on the job was following the rules and regulations set forth by the City Government Administration, worker's compensation will cover the expense of the medical treatment. If the employee violated the rules and regulation set forth by the administration the medical expense will still be covered; however, if the injury is career-threatening and it can be proven that the employee violated the work rules, the employee may receive a lower disability rating and reduced benefits.

The Bicycle

Let's start with the bicycle. The bicycle is considered a vehicle in most states, and as a vehicle, it is required to be in "good working order." IPMBA insists upon high-quality bicycles that have been built to withstand the rigors of the field. An inexpensive bike may break, resulting in rider injury - followed by a worker's compensation claim or, worse yet, a lawsuit.

One IPMBA instructor submitted photos to IPMBA HQ of a "big-box" bike which broke at the fork while the student was descending a set of stairs. Ouch! Not only must the bike be of good quality, it must be properly fitted to the rider. A variety of injuries, both chronic and traumatic, can result from an ill-fitting bicycle. Departments should be aware of these factors before attempting to build a fleet from poor quality or seized bikes.

Accepting poor equipment may save pennies in the short run, but the costs may be high in the long run.

If the bicycle is ridden at night, most states required the bicycle to be equipped with a headlight and a rear red light, steady or flashing. This is in addition to the required reflectors and placards placed on the bicycles by the manufacturers. OSHA does not have specific requirements for outfitting bikes for public safety use. Common sense and intelligence dictate how a department outfits the bikes.

The Helmet

With all the press about helmet use and injury prevention, it is hard to imagine that any agency would permit their personnel to ride helmetless. That would be like making seatbelt use in a patrol car or ambulance optional. However, as evidenced by a photo submitted by an IPMBA Instructor, at least one agency is risking lives and flirting with legal disaster.

Bikes are single-track vehicles. Unless balanced by a kickstand or a rider, they will fall over. Sometimes, despite the best efforts of riders, they will do what they do naturally - fall over. Under normal circumstances, a human head hitting the hard ground from the height of a bike saddle can potentially suffer 3-4 times the G-force necessary to cause a FATAL brain injury. Add speed and it only gets worse. Bike helmets are designed to work within the force limits normally found in cyclist falls and crashes. They have proven to be over 80% effective in preventing death and serious brain injury.

Those are good odds when betting with your brain. Even the most elite bike races are starting to recognize the importance of a helmet. After the recent tragic death of Andrei Kivilev during Paris-Nice - a death that experts say could have been prevented by a helmet - even the Tour de France has implemented a full time helmet requirement. The bottom line is "protection of your head will save your life."

Protective Eyewear

Eyewear is your second best friend, after the bicycle helmet. Some may think that cyclists wear glasses to shield their eyes from the glare of the sun, but it is more than that. Cyclists need eye protection under all lighting conditions. All public safety cyclists should be outfitted with good-quality, shatter-resistant glasses. Injury to the eyes can result from facial fractures, in which pressure is placed on the optic nerve. Rupture of the nerve, or a detached retina, can cause loss of vision. Although laser surgery has advanced to the point at which a detached retina can be repaired, why take chances? Take advantage of the many brands of glasses available with interchangeable lenses ranging from clear to dark.

The smallest item can harm your eyes while riding your bike. Passing vehicles throw small items at such a high rate of speed that you can be injured in a split second. Case in point: during an Instructor Course road ride in Charleston, an object noisily struck a fence. It hit with the force of a high-powered BB gun and could have easily been confused as such, if its true cause was not witnessed. A passing car had struck a rock with the edge of its tire, launching it with a velocity of several hundred feet a second. Just like the BB gun in A Christmas Story, it could have certainly put an eye out had it struck an unprotected rider's face.

Pedal Retention

The initial reaction of most people to pedal retention is negative. It seems logical that an object that restricts free movement can cause injury. And since injury means liability and liability means lawsuit, it seems illogical to equip public safety cyclists with pedal retention. Granted, a cyclist who is not experienced with pedal retention will probably fall over a few times and have trouble getting in and out of the clips, but practice cures that. Once past the initial frustration, most cyclists would not go back.

The main purpose of pedal retention is to keep the rider's feet on the pedals while clearing obstacles or going up and down stairs. If a foot slips off, the rider can come forward and land on the top tube, or the back of the leg or ankle can suffer a "pedal bite." Toe clips are to be kept loose so they are easy to get out of if a rapid dismount is necessary. Pedal retention makes for a rider who is more in control of his or her bike, and better able to accelerate and stop quickly. That can make the difference in catching a bad guy - or avoiding a crash.

Some riders opt for clipless pedals or PowerGrips, which enable the rider to enjoy the advantages of tight pedals without sacrificing the quick release. The rider also rides more efficiently, and is therefore able to ride for longer periods of time. Because both legs are moving as one unit, the rider keeps a good cadence. A rider working a good cadence becomes stronger in the heart, while the aerobic workout helps reduce stress and strain. OSHA does not take a stand on whether or not a rider should use pedal retention; however, it does acknowledge that a physically fit person recovers from an injury more quickly than one who is out of shape.

Cycling Gloves

Cycling gloves, though not listed as mandatory, are strongly recommended. Cycling gloves can help reduce the risk of injury in several ways. They protect the hands in the event of a fall. They absorb sweat. The padded palms are designed to reduce pressure on the ulnar nerve and prevent the wrists and hands from going numb. The last thing a bike cop needs - especially if he has to use his firearm - is a numb hand! In addition, the shock absorption quality of cycling gloves helps relieve tension in the arms, shoulders, and neck area, keeping the rider relaxed and better able to respond to the environment.

Public safety cyclists face unique challenges and risks in their jobs. Much of the safety equipment they require is not police or EMS-specific, so it may not be readily accepted as work-related. IPMBA's goal in establishing guidelines for gear is first and foremost to protect the rider, but equally important is to assist departments in writing SOPs that will help protect them from wasting valuable funds on lawsuits and worker's comp claims. Take a good look at your SOPs. Have they kept up with changes in technology? Do they protect you? Do they protect your department? If not, you've got some work to do. 

(c) IPMBA 2003.  This article appeared in the Summer 2003 issue of IPMBA News. 

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  • safety Flags

    WOW !! What a Wonderful blog and great shared to safety equipment, Really very effective post and information.
    safety Flags

    12:19am, 11/07/2014

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