Reducing the risks of MSDs while driving for work
Driving for work includes taxis, trucks and vans, buses and cars (e.g. of sales representatives). It is often more difficult for drivers to stand-up during the day, making it even more important that they are aware of the tips and best practices that can help them manage the risks related to prolonged sitting.
© EU-OSHA/David Tijero Osorio
Professional drivers are at high risk of developing health problems, due to spending most of the day sitting in a relatively confined space behind a wheel and the risk increases if exposed to vibrations from the vehicle. Low back pain is a major cause of disability among professional drivers.
Prolonged sitting and driving – what are the risks?
Motor vehicle drivers have to coordinate many complex muscular movements in order to control a vehicle. Sustained posture when controlling the steering wheel and the control pedals require static muscle activities that studies show can affect the lower back, neck, shoulders and knees. Prolonged sitting in an awkward position causes strain on muscles, tendons and ligaments, and along with MSDs, may also increase the risk of developing ruptured disks.
In addition, many professional drivers face time pressure and stress, which may also lead to muscle tensions. They often also need to load or unload heavy loads (e.g. truck, taxi and bus drivers) which can further increase the risks of MSDs. Sitting for very long periods of time is also linked to a number of health problems and other health related issues, including obesity, heart problems, high blood pressure, diabetes, leg-pain, varicose veins and blood clots.
Tips for employers
Employers should carry out a detailed workplace risk assessment for workers who drive, and measures should be introduced to protect all workers, with additional measures for those who are vulnerable, due to a health problem for example.
Ensuring an ergonomic cab design with adjustable seating is key to preventing MSDs. All journeys should be planned to allow for a sufficient number of breaks – ideally drivers should take a short a break for every hour of driving, even if just to use the phone, eat lunch or simply do some stretches.
It is also important to reduce, as much as possible, drivers’ exposure to manual handling risks and whole-body vibration which can adversely affect the spine and can increase the risk of low-back pain. All professional drivers should be provided with suitable information and training on posture, taking breaks, manual handling and generally staying safe and healthy.
Tips and best practices for drivers
A good place to start for both employers and drivers looking to find out how to stay safe while driving, is the e-guide on vehicle safety and a database providing information on everything from risk assessment and good practices to legislation and more.
Also, watch Napo’s videos on road safety and tips for preventing MSDs. The videos are language-free making them universally understandable and look at some of the key issues facing professional drivers.
When it comes to preventing MSDs, drivers need to remember to:
- Adjust their seating: frequent and excessive vibrations can hurt the body;
- Watch their posture as you drive and avoid leaning into the wheel. Move around, change postures while seated;
- Take care of their back. Exercise while driving, e.g. by lifting your shoulders, rotating your neck;
- Take regular breaks outside the cab to move around and do back stretches; avoid doing paperwork in the cab and get out to eat or use the phone;
- Increase their physical activity during leisure time to improve cardiovascular health.
As in most occupations, small adjustments to equipment and in day-to-day habits can greatly reduce the risk of MSDs while driving. For more in-depth information, consult the OSHwiki page on driving for work and MSDs and visit the European Transport Safety Council website, which provides factual information in the form of scientific reports, fact sheets and newsletters. And don’t forget to check out our priority area on sedentary work and to follow the campaign on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.