Commercial truck drivers face the risk of injury not only from accidents on the road, but also from the physical toll of sitting in and operating the vehicle. According to a recent Atlas Ergonomics study, long hours behind the wheel put certain drivers at a higher risk of developing musculoskeletal injuries.
Truck drivers lose the most workdays per musculoskeletal disorder incident of all workers, according to Atlas. This lost time can have a devastating effect on the income of individual drivers, as well as their health and their employers' bottom line. Fortunately, as the study shows, drivers at highest risk can be identified and workers can be protected.
The analysis of 28,301 commercial truck drivers was conducted from 2005 to 2008. The study focused primarily on long-haul operations, with only 10 percent work involving unloading freight. Pre-inspection, driving, and dropping off loads constituted the bulk of the work performed.
The analysis showed clear relationships between injury risk and the physical characteristics of both the driver and the cab. The studied population was comprised predominately of men; the drivers were distributed evenly by age; and the drivers tended to be taller and heavier than average population's demographics.
The white paper highlighted four demographics that could possibly affect driver discomfort:
Height – The study found that truck drivers either taller or shorter than average may face increased discomfort while driving. Tall drivers may have difficulty fitting into the cab space, while short drivers may have difficulty accessing controls. Making modifications to accommodate the driver's size could help prevent such discomfort.
Weight and BMI – While the study found that weight itself does impact driver comfort, body mass index (BMI) is an even better risk indicator. The obese population (the study found an "extremely high" number of drivers in the overweight and obese categories) has a higher risk of discomfort. In addition, high BMI may spell out more safety risks for drivers by being linked with sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea or short sleep cycles.
Age – The study did not provide significant results showing that age impacts driver discomfort. Drivers tended to experience more discomfort with seniority, however, especially as they approached 3-5 years of service. In addition, workers age 65 and older recorded the longest absences from work.
Gender – Only 8 percent of the study population was comprised of women drivers, with height emerging as the only demographic factor that differed significantly from the men's results. According to the white paper, "the design of the cab and seat are creating a challenge for individuals of smaller stature, resulting in elevated levels of discomfort across all body parts." Muscular strength may also account for discomfort levels in women, but this issue must be studied further.
Reducing the Risk
Data trends provided insight into reducing ergonomics risk for commercial drivers, according to Atlas President James Landsman. "Fortunately, as our historical data and work in transportation have shown, driver risk can be measurably reduced through simple, low-cost adjustments to the cab and the drivers' routines," he said. "The data show that sound ergonomics can have a direct, significant impact on trucking companies' financial performance – which executives may find particularly encouraging in this difficult economy."
Atlas will release a second white paper in this series that will focus on trends in discomfort over time. More information.