Traditionally, executive and sales vehicles have been used by corporations as an employee recruitment and retention tool. Could service vehicles be used the same way? For example, could the type of service vehicles you have in operation also be used to lure qualified employees or retain current employees? I believe they can, if marketed correctly. What employees want are service vehicles that are ergonomically comfortable to perform the work they need to do during an eight-hour work shift. This may seem like a no-brainer, but if you talk to drivers, this often does not occur and the discomfort of the work vehicle is their No. 1 job complaint.
Over the years, work trucks and vans 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. However, these devices and equipment take space, creating an increasingly cramped cab environment that restricts a driver’s body movement, which can potentially lead to injury and loss of productivity.
These “cramped quarters” are starting to impact the well-being of drivers in unanticipated ways. For instance, carpal tunnel syndrome is traditionally viewed as an office injury, but there has been an increase in drivers filing carpal tunnel syndrome claims. While in the field, drivers must input data using a small keyboard or touch screen, while sitting in cramped cabs that are more constrained than a typical office environment. Without adequate desk space for wrist supports, cushions, and other ergonomic-friendly accessories, drivers are at risk to develop wrist injuries. In addition, drivers often complain that these constricted work environments contribute to the development of back problems.
Spec’ing Vehicles to the ‘Bell Curve’
Spec’ing trucks to meet the diverse needs of your entire workforce 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. 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 a problem, such as when someone complains of an ergonomics-related health issue.
Higher fuel prices, acquisition costs, and corporate sustainability initiatives have cumulatively contributed to a widespread trend to spec smaller, lower-GVW trucks, so long as it does not impair the ability to fulfill the fleet application. While smaller trucks cost less, decrease fuel consumption, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, they also constrict in-cab work space for drivers. This is a growing concern for HR departments, who are dealing with an uptick of workers’ comp claims among fleet drivers. For taller drivers working out of a smaller truck, they 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.
However, larger trucks are not immune from driver ergonomic complaints. In fact, some contend that large trucks can exacerbate the chance of ergonomic injuries for some drivers. Shorter-stature drivers — women in particular — can be at risk if they must regularly stretch and strain while entering and exiting trucks or attempting to access storage compartments mounted on top of the side beds of high-profile trucks. Larger trucks make it difficult for employees under 5 feet 8 inches tall to access top-opening side bins. Another concern cited shorter-stature employees operating large trucks is the increased brake and accelerator pedal distance, even with the seat moved completely forward; however, to address this issue, some models offer adjustable gas and brake pedals.
Another factor contributing to the increase in ergonomic issues is the “growing” of Americans. 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. 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 dashboard. Nowadays, many employees, due to their size, are sitting closer to the steering wheel, even with the seat pulled fully back.
Avoid ‘One-Size-Fits-All’ Truck Specifications
A “one-size-fits-all” approach to truck specifications is an ergonomic minefield, which could have litigious consequences. By being more ergonomically sensitive, you can “market” it in a way that increases employee retention and generates positive word-of-mouth to prospective new employees.
Let me know what you think.