A recent report released by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that driving is the most dangerous activity workers engage in while on the job.
Contributing to the worker driving hazards are the workers’ age, driver fatigue, time pressure, unfamiliar vehicles, drinking and not wearing seatbelts.
While the report focuses on work-related vehicle crashes and, in particular, deaths, ergonomic concerns also arise for workers who find themselves on the road for their jobs.
A 2002 survey from Loughborough University linked long hours behind the wheel to increased absences due to low back pain, and particularly noted that the frequency of discomfort increased with the number of miles driven annually.
In addition to pain and potential musculoskeletal problems, the National Safety Council (NSC) in 2003 released a report that estimated between 20 and 30 percent of all motor vehicles accidents in the U.S. are attributable to distracted driving. Root causes of the distractions include cell phones in cars, passengers including young children, falling asleep at the wheel, driving drowsy, and putting on makeup, combing hair or shaving while driving.
Automobile makers and other government agencies have recently attempted to curb some of the driver issues that can potentially cause accidents by employing the concept of ergonomics into vehicle design. For example, Volvo has been working on a seat-adjusting system that determines the ideal seat location and position for better visibility based on the unique measurements of each individual driver. Ford has used pregnancy suits and elderly suits to help design cars fitted to the user’s body and abilities. And last year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) proposed a system that would have required automakers to use a standardized system of dashboard icons; however, the NHTSA changed its mind after receiving public comments on the agency’s idea that raised concerns about the more than 160 proposed icons’ readability and subsequently their lack of ergonomic design.
Sources: NY Times; Ergonomics Today