Ergonomics Program Slashes Discomfort, Pain Levels for Michigan Bus Drivers
The results were obtained as part of a joint effort between transit officials in Grand Rapids, Mich., and Atlas Ergonomics, an ergonomics consulting and technology provider based in Grand Haven, Mich. The firm was brought in to reduce injury rates of drivers for the city's transit system, The Rapid.
"We had been applying the same techniques and technology in the commercial trucking industry for years, and we started looking for other areas where these principles might apply," said James Landsman, CEO of Atlas Ergonomics.
Landsman said the operators of the city's 170 transit vehicles were experiencing the same type of discomfort as commercial truck drivers, such as shoulder, back and neck pain. However, public transit drivers experience unique back-related stress due to road vibration, uneven pavement, frequent turns, and the impact of potholes, he said.
"The continual assault on their bodies from driving makes it more likely that they will become fatigued and injured," Landsman added.
Landsman said one unique thing the firm found was the level of lower extremity pain and discomfort from drivers helping passengers get on and off the buses.
Training at center of program. "Our technology helps minimize the negative effects of prolonged sitting and road vibration on drivers, so that they hurt less at work and at home," Landsman said.
To target the musculoskeletal risks of bus drivers, Atlas consultants:
--Marked the vehicles.
Prior to training employees and supervisors, the Atlas consultants set their sights on the vehicles. The ergonomists marked critical adjustment features on the buses -- such as seat height, seat depth, and steering wheel angle -- with simple, easy-to-use labels. Landsman said the labels, when used in conjunction with fitting and training, help drivers maintain their healthiest settings over time. The approach, he said, works especially well when one driver uses different vehicles or shares the vehicle with others.
--Provided training to drivers. Landsman said most modern buses have ergonomically designed seats and steering wheels. However, these features are not beneficial if people do not know how to use them, he said.
Atlas produced a video for the project to help educate drivers. Landsman said the employee training includes easy-to-use instructional materials to make sure drivers understand how to adjust their seats and steering wheels for maximum comfort and safety.
--Fitted drivers to the vehicle.
Atlas consultants also provided training to supervisors to enable them to fit drivers to their vehicles.
"We lined the vehicles up and fit each worker to each type of vehicle," Landsman said. "What happens is when the driver brings in their report, it will take about 20 seconds to make all the adjustments to ensure they are operating the vehicle in the proper posture. Drivers can take their guides from vehicle to vehicle, ensuring safety throughout the fleet, and reducing the need for additional assistance."
--Conducted follow-up surveys.
During the year, drivers were surveyed five times. Each survey asked whether drivers were experiencing pain or discomfort, along with its location, severity and frequency. The results were entered into Atlas' ergonomics software program, which generated reports that highlighted drivers who were reporting higher levels of discomfort. Landsman said Atlas has the largest database in the world on driver discomfort, which enables the company to identify employees who may be susceptible to injuries.
"We take their data and break it down by driver demographics, such as body mass index, gender, height, and other factors," he said. "We do correlation studies, and this allows us to go in and focus on that much smaller piece of the pie."
Program making a difference. Twelve months after the start of the ergonomics program, the level of reported high and extreme pain or discomfort among bus drivers has declined by 50 percent. Specifically, Landsman said significant reductions in pain and discomfort were reported in drivers' necks, shoulders and backs.
"We don't have the financials yet, but we are looking at the impact of the program on workers' compensation," he said. "From our previous experience in the commercial trucking industry, there is a strong correlation between less discomfort and reduced workers' comp costs."
Peter Varga, CEO of The Rapid, said transit officials are pleased with the results.
"We are committed to providing safe and comfortable working conditions for our operators," he said. "While the correlation between injury rates and this program is not fully developed, we are hopeful that this will result in reduced workers' compensation claims and other health-related costs."
Varga said The Rapid plans to continue gathering data on both discomfort and the financial impact of the program.
November 17, 2008
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