By Mike Antich
Under OSHA regulations, an employer must provide a workplace (which includes work vehicles) free from recognized hazards. A variety of upfitting options are available to fleets to help reduce the risk of injury to employees, such as hydraulic self-unloading ladder racks, newer low-profile chassis, and even simple things such as step bumpers. Workers' Comp claims resulting from use of add-on equipment is on the rise. Poor equipment spec'ing decisions can result in expensive litigation.
Ergonomics is also an accident avoidance issue. Poor ergonomics reduces driver comfort, increasing fatigue, a key contributor to preventable accidents. In the final analysis, resolving ergonomic issues can have a significant impact in reducing Workers' Comp costs, improving user productivity, and reducing fatigue-induced operator errors. A corollary to ergonomically designed equipment is the importance of all users being thoroughly trained in the safe use of this equipment. Also, user group managers should regularly inspect equipment to ensure its safe working condition and that equipment is used only for its intended purpose.
The following are ergonomic specifications to consider.
Specifying Ergonomic-Friendly Equipment
Liftgates: A liftgate reduces the risk of back injury by allowing users to more easily maneuver, load, and unload heavy products in and out of trucks and trailers. A liftgate can quickly pay for itself if you multiply the average Workers' Comp costs by the number of reported overexertion incidents.
Hydraulic Drop-Down Ladder Rack: Specify drop-down style ladder racks for vans. This helps minimize possible back problems that could arise from removing a 24-foot extension ladder from the roof of a van.
Slide-Out Bed: Specify bed sliders for pickups equipped with commercial style caps, so the user doesn't have to bend or twist to remove a heavy object from the vehicle bed.
Rear Step Bumper and Grab Handles: Analyze ease of rear entry and egress from service and van bodies. More fleets are adding a step bumper and a grab handle to facilitate getting in and out of a service body bed. To minimize slips, fleets are opting for an open strut-style rear bumper to allow snow or rain to fall through the openings and not collect on the bumper.
Side Steps on Pickups. Another important consideration is side steps on pickups to access cross-bed toolboxes.
Safety Tread Step. A driver-side fuel tank with an open safety tread step is preferable to closed running board steps, especially in areas where snow can create slippery conditions for the driver. Other precautions include anti-slip coatings. If there's any chance a user will walk on a surface or use it as a step, it must not be smooth. Anti-slip coating or surface treatment is needed. Any operating area exposed to snow or ice conditions needs traction areas with large openings to prevent build-up.
Side-Door Access. Walk-ins or dry freight bodies with step van side door access steps enable the user to work inside the body protected from the elements.
Roll-Up Doors. A cargo body with a roll-up door needs a pull-down that can be reached from the ground.
Pull-out Ramps. These ramps expedite the removal of product loaded on a dolly. Consider ventilated-style pull-out ramps that stop snow and rain from collecting on the ramp.
Mirrors. Many fleets spec heated mirrors and convex spot mirrors, optional equipment that improves visibility.
Using Ergonomics to Minimize Liability
Focus on ergonomic solutions with users when evaluating the merits of add-on equipment. Evaluate user body postures to understand the health implications of the working environment.
Contributing to the increase in fleet-related ergonomic issues is the "growing" of Americans. When originally developed, GVW calculations were based on a driver's average weight of 150 lbs. However, most of us today would be hard-pressed to locate many 150-lb. employees. The expanding girth of employees 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. Nowadays, many employees find themselves sitting much closer to the steering wheel, even with the seat pulled fully back. Seating is an ergonomic "mine field." An estimated 40 percent of all truck drivers suffer from chronic back problems.
Liability emanating from usage of inappropriately spec'ed 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 to protect the health and welfare of employees.
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