Designs to Fit the Driver
What is Ergonomics?
Most people have heard the term ‘ergonomics’ and assume it has to do with office furniture arrangement or with the design of car controls and instruments — and it does — but it is so much more. Ergonomics applies to the design of anything that involves people — workspaces, sports and leisure, health and safety.
It is the science of designing or arranging workplaces, products and systems to fit the people who use them. This branch of science aims to improve workspaces and environments to minimize risk of injury or harm. So as technologies change, so does the need to ensure that the tools we access for work, rest and play are designed for our body’s abilities and limitations.
Why Should We Care?
Under OSHA regulations, an employer must provide a workplace (which includes work vehicles) free from recognized hazards. Across a variety of vocational segments, today’s fleet managers are devoting increased consideration to ensuring both original design and upfits will be ergonomically safe for drivers over the service life of the vehicles.
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 — all of which have dramatically enhanced driver productivity. However, these devices and equipment also occupy interior space, adding to a cramped cab environment that restricts a driver’s body movement — potentially risking ergonomic injury.
On the road, drivers now input data using small keyboards, or touch screens, 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 such injuries — a growing HR concern due to the uptick in workers’ compensation claims among company drivers.
Additionally, when originally developed, interior cab designs were based on a driver’s average weight of 150 lbs. As the following data, compiled from a US DHHS & CDC study indicates, statistics have changed dramatically and drivers are experiencing unanticipated ergonomic issues as a result.
· Males truck drivers are significantly shorter (.5 in) and heavier (30 lbs) than the general US population.
· Male truck drivers have greater thigh and waist circumference (3.5 and .5 in, respectively) than the general US population.
· Compared to 30 years ago, male truck drivers are larger in abdominal depth, sitting forearm-to-forearm breadth, hip breadth, sitting waist circumference and body weight.
These changes in truck driver anthropometrics likely reflect not only suspect nutritional choices, but the sedentary nature of the trucking occupation in general — and they pose a problem. When seated, the single most important requirement for the driver is easy access to instrument panel controls with good visibility of the road and the dashboard; in the plus-sized world, drivers are finding themselves jammed up against the steering wheel — even when the seat is fully retracted.
To complicate the ergonomic landscape, the face of trucking itself is changing.
Truck driving is no longer the exclusive domain of big burly men. With more women coming into the industry, designers face a new set of challenges.
Volvo Trucks’ Jason Spence says there has been a movement for some time now to advance the design of interiors and exteriors to allow anyone smaller in stature to operate trucks more safely. “Things like having to reach too far to operate switches and poor visibility of gauges based on a different seating position are just a few of the ergonomic challenges that are being addressed for drivers of smaller stature,” he says.
Related considerations on the vehicle’s exterior include fifth wheels that require less effort to unlatch and hoods that take less strength to open. “We are addressing those concerns now and fleets will see more options for women and all smaller-stature drivers in the future,” Spence says [source: ccjdigital.com].
What’s a Designer to Do?
Work-related highway incidents are a leading cause of occupational deaths and injuries in the United States. Prevention of work-related highway injuries and deaths poses one of the greatest challenges for occupational safety researchers.
Compared with other settings, the work environment surrounding trucking and other transportation-related activities is fluid and dynamic. As such, it is difficult to exert direct control over a range of factors (fatigue, inattention, subpar road and weather conditions) that may negatively influence a worker’s safety.
To address the variety of challenges, NIOSH has been actively engaged in a range of research efforts that are likely to have the greatest impact on the reduction of work-related highway incidents. One of these research efforts is focused on reducing hazards to truck drivers by improving ergonomic design in medium-duty and heavy-duty truck cabs [source: US DHHS & CDC].
To achieve best practice design, Ergonomists must integrate the data and techniques of several disciplines [source: DOHRMANN CONSULTING].
· Anthropometry: body sizes, shapes; populations and variations
· Biomechanics: muscles, levers, forces, strength
· Environmental physics: noise, light, heat, cold, radiation, vibration body systems: hearing, vision, sensations
· Applied psychology: skill, learning, errors, differences
· Social psychology: groups, communication, learning, behaviors
Because today’s computers can compile and integrate an enormous range of data very quickly, truck manufacturers have been able to transition to a Multivariate Accommodation Model (MAM) approach to cab design. What this means is that a much broader array of data from all sources, disciplines and options can contribute to future ergonomic designs.
But while OSHA has its own set of ergonomic parameters, the interior cabin is still a driver’s home away from home. “When drivers need to rest, they want to do it in style and comfort with a minimum of hassles, including staying cool in the summer and warm in the winter — all while maintaining a self-contained environment,” says Phil Cary, Mack’s Highway Segment Manager. Cary says that in addition to cutting-edge ergonomic design ingenuity, designers and engineers must listen to drivers who often suggest the very ideas that lead to design improvements.
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