This article originally appeared in Government Fleet.
Government fleet professionals are the backbone of our cities, counties and states. They drive and fix our police cars, buses and public utility vehicles. Unfortunately, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, the rate of workplace injury for public sector professionals is nearly twice as high when compared to the private sector, and the vast majority of injuries facing public and private fleet professionals are a result of simple movements like lowering, lifting, carrying, stepping and bending. Often, these injuries lead to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) that can cost organizations in the public and private sector millions of dollars. To help protect other government fleet professionals from developing MSDs, here are five proven tips that you can apply in your work environment.
Ergonomics is the science of engineering the environment to the human being. What is, too often, overlooked is how the very same individuals we are trying to protect interact within that environment. We can have the fanciest, most ergonomically sound seat in the world, but if we slouch all day long, we’re still going to end up with back pain. By educating individuals on how to lift, carry, push, pull, step up or down, and sit, we can empower them to stay in the strongest, safest possible positions regardless of the environment.
According to the Mayo Clinic, back pain is one of the most common reasons people go to the doctor or miss work, and it is a leading cause of disability worldwide. Whether you are sitting at a desk all day or moving 20,000 pounds in a warehouse, you can significantly reduce the risk of back injury by focusing on keeping your entire spine aligned and in a neutral position.
Depending on the type of driving required, a government fleet worker may exit the truck cab 5 to 50 times a day. When climbing out of any sort of vehicle that is high enough to require a step, you should always turn around backward and control your descent. Climbing down backwards enables you to use the handles in the safest, strongest position for your shoulders. You will also be able to engage the strongest muscles in your legs as you control your body weight and climb down.
As mentioned previously, even the most ergonomically correct seat won’t force you into a safe position. Some truck drivers are required to sit in a cab for upwards of eleven hours a day. A quick adjustment you can make to help protect your lumbar spine from the cumulative damage of sitting to to scoot your butt all of the way back in the seat. This provides a stable hip platform that makes it easier to maintain a neutral lumbar spine.
When you slouch, injuries to the upper back, shoulders and neck become more of a risk. A quick way to help straighten out your upper back is to stand up with your arms at your sides and turn your thumbs away from your body (think of that poster of the anatomical man in your doctor’s office). See if you can feel the immediate correction of the slouched posture as you turn your thumbs out. Once reset, you can let your hand position relax and try not to lose that neutral upper back.
Although the most common workplace injuries result from simple, repetitive movements, the good news is that 64 percent of these injuries are preventable by adjusting the way that workers organize their bodies and move through space. When practiced consistently, the five tips above will help government fleet professionals protect themselves from injuries and ensure on-the-job efficiency.