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Ergonomics Is the Missing Link in Calculating Total Cost of Ownership

March 21, 2016, by Mike Antich - Also by this author

The key word in calculating total cost of ownership (TCO) is total. Traditionally, TCO is calculated as follows:

  • Acquisition cost minus incentives.
  • Net depreciation, which is the estimated resale value during anticipated service period subtracted from net acquisition cost.
  • Fuel economy.
  • Preventive maintenance (PM), which is the total cost of performing all OEM-recommended scheduled maintenance and oil drains.
  • Unscheduled maintenance, which is the projected cost of repairing non-PM problems.
  • Interest cost.
  • Taxes, registration, and other vehicle fees.
  • Insurance, if not self-insured.

What makes this formula incomplete is that it doesn’t take into account vehicle ergonomics, which has a direct bearing on driver productivity, driver satisfaction, accident avoidance, and workers’ comp issues. The way a vehicle (and its upfit) are designed can have either a negative or positive influence on driver ergonomics.

A “one-size-fits-all” approach to truck specifications is an ergonomic minefield, which, besides health, safety, and productivity issues, could result in litigious consequences.

Impact of Ergonomics on Productivity

Under OSHA regulations, an employer must provide a workplace (which includes work vehicles) free from recognized hazards. Over the years, work trucks have evolved into mobile offices equipped with a variety of in-cab devices, such as GPS and 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. But, these devices and equipment take space, creating an increasingly cramped cab environment, restricting a driver’s body movement, which can potentially lead, in the long-term, to ergonomic-induced injuries. This is a growing concern among HR directors, who are dealing with an uptick of workers’ compensation claims among fleet drivers.

Spec’ing a smaller, lower GVW truck may be able to fulfill a fleet application, but it may also contribute to poor driver ergonomics due to space constraints. While smaller trucks cost less, decrease fuel consumption, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, they also constrict in-cab work space for drivers, especially if a mobile data terminal is installed.

For taller drivers working out of a smaller truck, they often cite ergonomic issues relating to cab egress and ingress, or discomfort when operating the vehicle for extended periods. Drivers who are of above-average height complain they must “contort” their bodies to fit into a smaller cab, which, some allege, will ultimately lead to ergonomic-related injuries or aggravate pre-existing conditions.

Larger trucks are not immune from driver-ergonomic complaints. Shorter stature drivers – women in particular – can be at risk if they must regularly stretch and strain while entering and exiting trucks or when attempting to access storage compartments mounted on top of the side beds of high-profile trucks. These trucks make it difficult for employees under 5-feet-8-inches tall to access top-opening side bins or work out of a pickup bed. Another concern for shorter stature employees operating large trucks is the increased brake and accelerator pedal distance, even with the seat moved completely forward. Some models offer adjustable gas and brake pedals, which can be a positive TCO factor.

Contributing to the increase in fleet-related ergonomic issues is the “growth in waistlines.” When originally developed, GVW calculations were based on a driver’s average weight of 150 pounds. However, most of us today would be hard pressed to locate many 150-pound employee drivers. The expanding girth of many drivers is creating unanticipated ergonomic issues. When seated, the most important feature is the ability of the driver to adjust the seat and steering column to allow easy access to instrument panel controls, along with maintaining good visibility of the road and the dashboard. Many plus-size employees find themselves sitting much closer to the steering wheel, even when the seat is fully retracted.

Good Ergonomics Increases Accident Avoidance

Spec’ing a truck to meet the diverse needs of your entire work-force is a challenge. You can spec your fleet to a “bell curve” and deal with the exceptions by adding ergonomic-friendly equipment or swapping a driver from a large to small truck and vice versa.

Perhaps the most important aspect of good ergonomics is that it can increase accident avoidance. Poor ergonomics reduces driver comfort, which increases fatigue, a key contributor to preventable accidents. In the final analysis, resolving ergonomic issues can have a significant impact on your company’s bottom line by reducing workers comp costs, improving driver productivity, and reducing fatigue-induced operator errors.

When spec’ing vehicles, the cost-avoidance benefits of good ergonomics must be monetized to an approximate value and factored into calculating the true total cost of ownership.

Let me know what you think.

[email protected]

Comments

  1. 1. Allen Mitchell [ March 28, 2016 @ 02:14PM ]

    Ergonomics can be a major factor for long-haul truckers and your sales and service force because a lapse in proper vehicle design and equipment design can impact driver fatigue and even repetitive motion injuries. As far as operationally, ergonomics directly impacts driver satisfaction and that may be an impact on sales and service workforce performance.

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Mike Antich

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Mike has covered fleet management and remarketing for more than 20 years and entered the Fleet Hall of Fame in 2010.

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