In November 2000, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued an ergonomics standard to prevent debilitating work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs). Four months later, the standard was culled — ouch. Roger Brereton, head of sales at Pailton Engineering, explains why this was a bad decision and investigates the importance of ergonomic design in bus manufacturing.
The short-lived safety standard required all employers to establish an ergonomics program if triggered by reports or signs of WMSDs. Unfortunately, the standard was quickly rescinded by Congress, striking a blow to worker health and prohibiting OSHA from ever issuing a substantially similar standard. The White House issued a statement saying the new regulations "would cost employers, large and small, billions of dollars annually while providing uncertain new benefits". We don’t agree.
While the ergonomics standard may have been removed, under the General Duty Clause of the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act, employers are still required to ensure workplaces are free from ergonomic hazards. For those that drive for work, this legislation couldn’t be more important.
For bus drivers, WMSDs are prolific. They are at high risk of developing musculoskeletal disorders due to prolonged sitting in awkward posture positions, often resulting in complaints, injuries and unplanned time off work. Lack of consideration for the driver ergonomics is partially to blame.
A study on the causes of lower back pain in bus drivers indicated 81 per cent experienced lower back pain during their job. Furthermore, 80 per cent of coach operators admitted to experiencing back or neck pain during work — compared to just 50 per cent of individuals in sedentary, but non-driving jobs.
Drivers of coaches, buses or heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) can be in their working environment for up to eight hours at a time. The seat, steering wheel and pedals all influence the driver’s posture, and over time, a poor ergonomically designed environment, with insufficient back support in combination with an incorrect steering wheel position, all contribute to awkward body positions and the resultant back pain and other issues.
This is because a standard bus cabin is set up for the ‘average’ driver, with no consideration of anatomical differences. Often, seat adjustment is the only degree of personalisation available. This approach doesn’t differentiate between drivers of different shapes and sizes, and could result in drivers enduring non-optimal driving positions.
In an ideal world, cabin environments would be ergonomically designed to meet the exact needs of each specific driver. However, as drivers change over shifts throughout the day, can employers really give ample time and resources to thorough steering and seat adjustments on an individual basis? Sounds complicated, but it doesn’t have to be.
To enable drivers to carry out beneficial adjustments to the cabin environment in a short space of time, the bus market is deploying electric memory steering columns. These high-tech steering columns automatically adjust the steering position to a driver’s optimal position as they enter the cabin, controlled by a joystick or by Bluetooth connection.
The product's memory records the optimal position for each driver, based on personal identification, so that every driver can automatically make an appropriate steering adjustment at the start of their shift. This removes the need to manually adjust the steering and guarantees an optimal steering position every time.
After identifying the optimal adjustments for each individual driver, the electric steering column can be deployed to improve ergonomics, driver position and long-term driver health. As more operators see the importance of ergonomic design, bus manufacturers will be left with little choice but to accommodate for this level of flexibility.
While the fleeting ergonomics standard only existed for four months back in 2000, the importance of ergonomics is not going away. For the bus and coach driving industries, there is set to be a huge shift in priorities over the next five years, on the back of the new electric memory steering column development.