Under OSHA regulations, an employer must provide a workplace (which includes upfitted work vehicles) free from recognized hazards. Across a variety of vocational segments, today’s fleet managers are devoting increased consideration to ensuring upfits will be ergonomically safe for the driver over the service life of the vehicles.
More fleets are requesting upfits with additional safety equipment, such as a rear-view camera, reverse sensing, back-up alarm, remote start, grab handles, convex spot mirrors, and drop-down ladder racks to reduce workers’ comp claims and to improve operator efficiency.
To create an ergonomically safe work environment, make sure the vehicle is properly engineered upfront for the job it is required to do. For instance, if applications require crane installation on service bodies, the chassis GVWR should be sufficient for the application. Under-engineering can lead to unnecessary safety risks to drivers.
When selecting upfit equipment, review vehicle requests from the field and ask follow-up questions of drivers to verify the equipment is suitable for the job. Thoroughly train all employees handling the equipment in its operation and safe use. Develop written guidelines covering vehicle and equipment usage. Follow manufacturer guidelines to avoid unnecessary accidents.
Field managers should regularly inspect equipment to ensure it is in safe working condition and that equipment is only used for its intended purpose. Often, decisions are made in the field to modify vehicles without the fleet manager being informed. The home office is often not aware of the modification until there is an issue, such as when someone complains about an ergonomics-related health issue.
Over the years, work trucks have evolved into mobile offices equipped with a variety of in-cab devices, such as 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.
However, these devices and equipment take space, creating a cramped cab environment, restricting a driver’s body movement, which can potentially lead to ergonomic injuries. Carpal tunnel syndrome is viewed as primarily an office worker injury, but there has been an increase in drivers filing carpal tunnel syndrome claims as they spend more time typing on keyboards in cramped work spaces.
Ease of use and operator safety must be a fundamental concern for all fleet managers. Consultation with the end-user by including site visits to their location helps to understand how the vehicle and equipment will be utilized. Work closely with drivers to analyze their normal work processes. This may identify actions that can lead to an injury, such as repeatedly having to climb into the rear of a service body for parts or equipment. Site visits provide the opportunity to determine what does or doesn’t work well and helps identify opportunities to minimize/eliminate injuries and improve ease of use.
Be Proactive, Not Reactive
The best approach to make a fleet more ergonomic is to proactively identify potential issues and to rectify them before they result in injuries. Liability emanating from using inappropriately spec’d equipment is an issue to which fleet managers should devote more attention, due to the high cost of litigation to defend against alleged negligence and protect the health of employees.
Consider creating an ergonomic task force to evaluate the merits of upfits and the installation of other auxiliary equipment. A task force, usually comprised of representatives from HR, fleet, technical services, and safety departments, establish criteria regarding safety, cost, and functionality. These recommendations should be based on information collected from workers’ comp claims, employee interviews, observation, evaluation of body postures, and input from the in-house safety specialist. The task force would also spend time on the job with field employees to observe workplace conditions and routine.
In addition to health issues, poor ergonomics is a key contributor to preventable accidents. In the final analysis, resolving ergonomic issues can have a significant impact in reducing workers’ compensation costs, improving user productivity, and decreasing fatigue-induced driver errors.
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