Over the years, work trucks have evolved into mobile offices equipped with a variety of in-cab devices, such as mobile data terminals for job-site reporting, routing, and work orders; along with in-cab filing bins and swivel writing boards, which dramatically enhance driver/technician productivity.
However, these devices and equipment take space, creating an increasingly cramped cab, restricting the body movement of a driver, which can potentially lead to ergonomic injuries.
Carpal tunnel syndrome has been viewed as primarily an office worker injury, but there has been an increase in drivers filing carpal tunnel syndrome claims. While in the field, drivers must input data using a small keyboard, or touch screen, while sitting in cramped truck cabs that are even more constrained than a typical office environment.
Without adequate desk space for wrist supports, cushions, and other ergonomic-friendly accessories, drivers are at increased risk to develop a wrist strain and/or carpal tunnel syndrome. Under OSHA regulations, an employer must provide a workplace (which includes work vehicles) free from recognized hazards.
Minimizing Liability Exposure
Spec’ing trucks to meet the diverse needs of entire workforce is a challenge. You can spec your fleet to a “bell curve” and deal with the exceptions by adding ergonomic-friendly equipment or swapping a driver from a large to small truck and vice versa.
Often, decisions are made in the field to modify vehicles without the fleet manager being informed. The home office is often not aware of the modification until there is an issue, such as when someone complains of an ergonomics-related health issue.
The best approach to make your fleet more ergonomic is to be proactive in identifying potential issues and to rectify them before they result in injuries. Liability emanating from using inappropriately spec’ed equipment is an issue to which fleet managers should devote more attention, due to the high cost of litigation to defend against alleged negligence and to protect the health of employees.
This is a growing concern for HR departments, who are dealing with an uptick of workers’ compensation claims among fleet drivers. For taller drivers working out of a smaller truck, they cite ergonomic issues relating to cab egress and ingress, or discomfort when operating the vehicle for extended periods.
Drivers who are of above-average height complain they must contort their bodies to fit into a smaller cab, which, some allege, will ultimately lead to ergonomic-related injuries or aggravate pre-existing conditions.
However, larger trucks are not immune from driver-ergonomic complaints. In fact, some contend that large trucks can exacerbate the chance of ergonomic injuries for some drivers.
Shorter stature drivers, women in particular, can be at risk if they must regularly stretch and strain while entering and exiting trucks or attempting to access storage compartments mounted on top of the side beds of high-profile trucks. These trucks make it difficult for employees under 5 feet, 8 inches tall to access top-opening side bins or work out of a pickup bed.
Ease of use and operator safety must be your fundamental concern. Consultation with the end-user by including site visits to their location helps to understand how the vehicle and equipment will be utilized. This may identify actions that can lead to an injury, such as repeatedly having to climb into the rear of a service body for parts or equipment. Site visits provide the opportunity to determine what does or doesn’t work well and help improve ease of use of upfitted equipment.
Consider creating an ergonomic task force to evaluate the merits of upfits and the installation of other auxiliary equipment. A task force, usually comprised of representatives from HR, fleet, technical services, and safety departments, establishes criteria regarding safety, cost, and functionality.
These recommendations should be based on information collected from workers’ comp claims, employee interviews, observation, and input from the in-house safety specialist.
Field managers should regularly inspect vehicles and upfitted equipment to ensure safe working conditions. Guidelines should require employees to report any equipment failure or damage. Likewise, a fleet manager must work closely with drivers to analyze work processes. For instance, this may identify actions that can lead to injury, such as repeatedly having to climb into the rear of a service body truck for parts or equipment.
A one-size-fits-all approach to truck specifications is an ergonomic minefield, with litigious consequences.
Let me know what you think.