Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), which affect the muscles, nerves, and tendons, usually in the neck, upper extremities, and lower back, are caused by lifting heavy items, reaching overhead, and performing repetitive, high-strain movements — all of which increases risk of injury for drivers and technicians who work out of their vehicles.
Fleets can prevent work-related MSDs through proper ergonomics — that is, fitting the truck to the job and the worker — to lessen muscle fatigue, increase productivity, and reduce the number and severity of MSD incidents.
Vehicle ergonomics also makes economic sense for employers, helping protect their bottom lines from expensive workers’ compensation claims, employee downtime, and other costs associated with injuries, such as MSD.
“It is ideal to specify a vehicle that makes it easier for employees to do their job and limits opportunities for injury,” said Sean Otterberg, manager, special projects, Auto Truck Group, which specializes in the design, manufacturing, and installation of truck equipment for a wide range of fleet applications.
And, a growing number of fleets seem to be taking this idea to heart.
“Fleets are focusing on higher vehicle return on investment (ROI), worker health, reducing injury claims, and improving driver satisfaction. As a result, fleet managers are reaching out to [their fleet management companies] to make ergonomic recommendations for upfits packages,” said Joe Birren, light-duty truck application specialist with Donlen, a full-service fleet management company headquartered in Northbrook, Ill., and a wholly owned subsidiary of the Hertz Corporation.
Ken Gillies, manager of truck ordering and engineering at GE Capital Fleet Services, a full-service fleet management company based in Eden Prairie, Minn., agreed. “Once you bring the safety supervisors into the vehicle specification discussion, it becomes a lot less about the capitalized cost.
The safety people will say, ‘Yes, it may cost a few hundred dollars more for an ergonomic friendly ladder rack, but we could spend $50,000 in a heartbeat on one driver that has an injury,’ ” Gillies said.
To best select ergonomic upfits, follow these six ergonomic principles:
1. Create Easy-to-Reach Access.
What tools and equipment does the technician need most frequently? Are those items stored in a way that they can be accessed with minimal strain? Make it easier for technicians to load and reach their equipment ergonomically by spec’ing upfits such as drop-down ladder racks, slide-out cargo trays and drawers, and exterior side-access panels on pickup truck toppers and inserts.
2. Step In and Out with Minimal Movement.
How high is the first step into the cabin or cargo area? Is it at a height that presents minimal strain for workers to enter and exit the vehicle? Or is there potential for injury?
Charles Mathew, senior order specialist for Donlen, advised that fleets should consider running boards or step bars, hitch steps, side-door step wells (for box trucks), and grab handles to ensure safer ingress and egress from the cargo area.
3. Spec Vehicle Height for Driver Posture.
When technicians must bend their necks and backs for extended periods of time, they’re at risk of chronic injuries. Birren with Donlen recommended making sure the van roof configuration or truck body interior height accommodates workers who spend significant amounts of time each day in the vehicle cargo area, so that they have enough room to work while maintaining proper posture.
4. Invest in Leverage Equipment.
“Fleet managers should solicit input from their workers: Are there heavier items on the floor? Why don’t we get them up within reach and put them in a spot where they’re easier to move?” advised Otterberg with Auto Truck Group.
For heavy cargo that could cause strain and fatigue for workers, especially those items that must be lifted several times a day, Otterberg recommended spec’ing lifting devices, such as a small crane or liftgate, depending on the vehicle and application.
5. Minimize Weight of Movable Truck Parts.
Take stake bodies, for example, which are typically built out of heavy steel. The lighter the material for each rack section, the less effort and time it takes to remove all of them to load and unload cargo. When appropriate to the application, consider spec’ing stakes manufactured with lightweight materials, such as composite or aluminum, to minimize fatigue for workers and, in turn, boost overall productivity.
6. Remove Driver Obstructions to Increase Comfort.
Gillies pointed to partition placement (between the cabin and cargo areas) inside work vans as a potential issue when it comes to driver comfort. This is because partitions can impede drivers (especially taller drivers) from being able to recline the seat sufficiently. In these instances, he recommended working with the upfitter to determine the optimal partition placement to accommodate drivers who need more room without sacrificing cargo space requirements.
“If you give the driver a more comfortable seating position, they’re going to be less prone to back tension when they do need to lift something in or out of their vehicle,” Gillies said. “If there’s less stress on the driver, he or she is going to be happier and more productive. And, a happier driver is going to be doing a better job for your customer.”
The better an employee’s customer relations are the better the company’s bottom line will be.
Originally posted on Work Truck Online