Reports of musculoskeletal discomfort are prevalent among professional drivers including truck drivers and operators of forklifts, excavators, graders, bobcats and lawn mowers to name a few.
The prevalence of low back pain among industrial drivers is considered to be higher than the population average [i] [ii] [iii] [iv] and there is ample evidence to show an association between industrial driving and back pain.
Drivers experience several musculoskeletal disorder risk factors including exposure to whole-body vibration, sedentary work and awkward sitting postures. Underlying these physical risk exposures may be industrial issues, psychosocial factors and personal preferences which can motivate workers to raise concerns about particular work vehicles. This multifactorial problem can create significant challenges for safety and health professionals when trying to assess risk, manage injury and provide solutions.
It is now well established that exposure to WBV is a risk factor implicated in the development of low back disorders and employers are obligated to assess and manage WBV exposure within the health guidance caution zone in AS2670-2001 Evaluation of human exposure to whole-body vibration. The Standard indicates that in the yellow cautionary zone, there are potential health effects and in the orange and red zones, health effects are likely. Below is a range of assessment findings from typical mobile plant showing that for some workers, these machines impose dangerous levels of WBV exposure where their risk of developing low back pain is likely.
The good news for employers is that these results do not require grounding of a fleet. Vibration risk controls are many and varied and might include setting time limits and this is certainly wise for rough rides like bobcats. Other controls might include adding ballast to improve suspension, optimising tyre pressure, general vehicle maintenance, retro-fitting superior vehicle seating or staff training.
However, the most successful strategy is to eliminate or reduce WBV emissions at the source and many employers are now including ergonomic and WBV assessment as part of their standard vehicle procurement process. Interestingly, there is little correlation between vehicle price and vibration emissions!
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[i] Bovenzi M, Rui F, Negro C, D’Agostin F, Angotzi G, Bianchi S, Bramanti L, Festa G, Gatti S, Pinto I, Rondina L, Stacchini N (2006) An epidemiological study of low back pain in professional drivers. Journal of Sound and Vibration 298: 514-539
[ii] Okunribido OO, Magnusson M, Pope M (2006) Delivery drivers and low-back pain: A study of the exposures to posture demands, manual materials handling and whole-body vibration. International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics 36(3): 265-273
[iii] Joy J, Mabarak N, Nelson S, Sweerts de Landas M, Magnusson M, Okunribido O, Pope M (2005) Whole body vibration and posture as risk factors for low back pain among forklift truck drivers. Journal of Sound and Vibration 284: 933-946
[iv] Okunribido OO, Shimbles SJ, Magnusson M, Pope M (2007) City bus driving and low back pain: A study of the exposures to posture demands, manual materials handling and whole-body vibration. Applied Ergonomics 38(1): 29-38