The Vehicle as Workplace: Driver Ergonomics

Workers who spend a lot of time behind the wheel are often overlooked when it comes to workplace ergonomics even though their ‘workstation’ is less adjustable than those found in offices and other buildings.

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Furthermore with recent technological advances in areas such as smartphones and tablet computers greatly increasing our capability for work while away from the workplace, vehicles are increasingly being used as mobile offices raising the need to pay more attention to driver ergonomics.

While this kind of flexibility can bring obvious business benefits it also comes with its own Health and Safety risks; ergonomics experts warn that drivers could be risking serious long term muscle, joint and spinal injuries.

Here we look at the ergonomic issues associated with drivers and what we can do to manage them properly. Box2

Risk assessment

When undertaking an occupational driving risk assessment we can split it into three main elements: driver, vehicle and journey, the first two having the most bearing on driver ergonomics.

Naturally it is important to consider the driver’s physical characteristics e.g. height and size. Pre-existing medical conditions should also be taken into account. Musculoskeletal disorders such as back pain, sciatica and tendonitis are obvious problems but we should also consider the less obvious such as circulatory problems; a mixture of sedentary working and pressure to the backs of the legs such as that from a car seat can inhibit blood flow.

Pregnancy can also have a significant impact on ergonomics, not only because of the increasing size of the bump but also from softening of the ligaments and susceptibility to other pregnancy-related problems. As the pregnancy progresses, it is reasonable to look at reducing expected driving times e.g. by starting to reassign work that is further away to other colleagues in preparation of maternity leave.

Also it is important to bear in mind the work the driver will be carrying out when not driving such as loading and unloading. Manual handling assessments should cover these activities.

In terms of the vehicle, it is important to provide a suitable type of car for the individual and the type of work they are required to do. Adjustability is key, particularly if the vehicle is shared between workers.

DSE assessment?

While the HSE Approved Code of Practice and Guidance to the Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations (DSE Regulations) is lagging behind somewhat in technological terms, the DSE Regulations will cover the use of laptops, netbooks, smartphones and tablets.

However, as with any item of display screen equipment, it will depend if the worker is classified as a ‘user’ i.e. if they habitually work with the equipment for more than an hour per day as to whether a specific DSE assessment is required under the Regulations.

There is also a recent trend towards ‘BYOD’ – bring your own device. This is more difficult for employers to manage as employees may not always notify their employer that they are using the equipment, even though it is being used for work.

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