Although much thought is given to the care and maintenance of the mechanical equipment used in the beverage industry, far less attention is devoted to proper care of a distributor’s most important asset: the drivers who deliver finished products to the customers.

Ergonomic considerations — including the design and spec’ing of trucks, delivery processes, screening, training and review — all can reduce injury and disability among drivers. Devoting attention to driver health can help maintain productivity levels, reduce workers’ compensation claim costs and improve profitability.

A study conducted by the Washington Department of Labor found that the three most common types of injuries suffered by delivery drivers are musculoskeletal disorders such as sprains from overexertion (36 percent of total injuries), being struck by or against part of the truck or cargo (14 percent), and falls from elevation (11 percent). The study found that each year approximately one of 13 truck drivers will have a workers’ compensation claim resulting in lost work time at an average cost of $30,000 per claim.

When compared with the attention that is given to preventing vehicle-related (collision) injuries, which account for 7 percent of total injuries, focusing on ergonomics in and around the truck could address the causes of more than half of all injuries to drivers.

Spec’ing opportunities

When spec’ing a truck for purchase, many opportunities are available to mitigate potential driver injuries. Optimally placed grab handles and assist steps as well as the accessibility of connections and adjustments and even the type of truck all can contribute to reduced potential for injury and disability.

An evolutionary shift in beverage delivery logistics, the move to “end-load” truck bodies and trailers, brings the potential for many ergonomic improvements but also some fresh concerns.

Using the end-load or “bulk”-style bodies and trailers equipped with lift gates enables palletized orders to be delivered without the driver physically handling every case of product and eliminates dangerous overhead manual lifting. However, the increased height of the cargo floor requires that greater attention be paid to step/grab-handle placement as well as training for proper ingress/egress practices.

Similarly, the shift from straight trucks to tractor-trailer configurations brings fresh ergonomic concerns. Improperly locating trailer air and electrical connections and fifth-wheel latches can lead to potential injuries when connecting and disconnecting trailers.

During the spec’ing process, opting to mount the air and electrical connectors closer to the side of the tractor and trailer where they can be reached while standing on the ground can avoid the need to get up on the catwalk when connecting the tractor and trailer.

The interior of truck cabs also have come a long way. Today’s truck seating options provide for infinitely more adjustability, and tilt/telescoping steering columns can be spec’ed on most trucks. Less common, but becoming increasingly available, are adjustable pedals.

Here again, opportunities for ergonomic improvement also bring fresh concerns. Without some means of quantifying the correct settings for all of these adjustments, what might seem subjectively “comfortable” to the driver when he or she first hops into a truck actually might be the worst settings for maintaining proper posture, leading to adverse health effects over the long term.

Fortunately, there is at least one solution for screening drivers and quantifying the optimum settings for in-cab adjustments. Originally offering ergonomic consulting for multi-shift call centers, Atlas Ergonomics now delivers a full spectrum of ergonomics management for employees in office, healthcare, industrial and transportation environments.

Utilizing its nationwide network of professionals, Atlas has developed a system of indexed markings for each of a seat’s adjustments, which, when combined with an ergonomically correct fitting for each user, enables drivers to precisely set adjustments at the beginning of every shift.

In addition to quantifying proper seat settings, Atlas’ implementation for trucks also incorporates the setting of tilt/telescope steering columns and will likely add coverage of adjustable pedal settings once that feature becomes more widely available in commercial trucks.

The total fitting concept involves first putting the driver in the proper seating posture and then adjusting the steering wheel and pedals accordingly, rather than setting the seat to reach the controls and disregarding optimal posture.

More than hardware

Successfully managing ergonomics isn’t limited to the truck and its parts. Without proper screening, training and monitoring of the fleet’s drivers, even the best spec’ed truck can’t always protect the driver.

After the vehicle considerations are addressed, the next step is to quantify the driver’s work.

 Then, new and existing drivers must be trained with the ergonomic considerations, and follow-up monitoring should be implemented to ensure proper behavior and identify and address new risks.  

Ryder partners with women in trucking to develop female-friendly vehicle designs

Ergonomic advancements improve truck designs for shorter, aging male drivers as well

In response to the increasing number of women choosing careers as professional truck drivers, and to inspire more women to consider the transportation industry as a career, Ryder System Inc. recently announced a partnership with Women In Trucking, a non-profit organization established to encourage the employment of women in the trucking industry.

Among the goals of this collaborative effort is to enhance safety through ergonomic truck cab designs that address the unique challenges women face when operating today's commercial heavy-duty vehicles. Using research recently conducted by Women In Trucking in partnership with the University of Wisconsin, Ryder has identified custom vehicle designs that better meet the needs of female drivers.

Some of the vehicle specifications Ryder is reviewing include:

  • Height and placement of cab steps and grab handles
  • Adjustable foot pedal heights (accelerator, brake, clutch)
  • Height of seat belts (shoulder area)
  • Visibility of dash gauges
  • Electric/hydraulic hood-lifting mechanism
  • Automated transmission shift lever placement/location
  • Access to the top of the dash
  • Better access to oil and coolant check and fill

As part of this partnership, Ryder will deploy these designs in its owned and leased fleet and will help encourage vehicle manufacturers to consider additional design changes.

“There are close to 200,000 women truck drivers, and that number is steadily growing,” says Ellen Voie, chief executive officer of Women In Trucking. “Having Ryder’s support, particularly given their strong relationships with top vehicle manufacturers, represents a significant step forward to help the industry attract more female drivers and improve the work environment for the thousands of women who’ve already established careers as professional drivers.”

Scott Perry, Ryder’s vice president of supply management, added: “It’s important for manufacturers to take women's needs into consideration when designing and specifying new vehicles, and we are encouraging all of our major suppliers to do so. In addition, many of the same design changes will also support the needs of men who are smaller in stature, as well as the growing population of aging male drivers. With the current industry-wide shortage of professional drivers, this is a strategic initiative that can have far-reaching implications for truck fleets.”