When Jim Anderson, vice-president of safety for Florida Rock & Tank Lines Inc in Jacksonville, Florida started analyzing injuries and where they were coming from, he was convinced many of them stemmed from ergonomic failure, whether it was training or equipment.
He couldn’t find any studies specific to tank-truck work, so he contacted a consultant who put him in touch with Cathy Phillips, a Certified Associate Ergonomist (CAE), founder of Ergonomic Health Solutions, and one of the world’s leading authorities on injury prevention and ergonomics training.
“To ensure that our drivers would buy into the changes, we tried to keep it simple and show them it would truly be a benefit to them if they used the techniques,” Anderson said. “They did come back to us and say, ‘This has helped me. I’m not as fatigued at the end of my shift.’ So we knew we were on the right track. With the more experienced drivers, we have to work with them to get them to see there is a benefit and it will help them on the job, not just now but for years to come.”
Said Phillips, “You will get that change resistance, but don’t allow them to do it the same way and accept it because that’s the only way you’ve done it. As an industry, we are so much stronger than on our own. Use networking and make improvements.”
In a presentation entitled “The Ergonomics of Tank Trucking,” Anderson and Phillips presented their Ergo 4 Tanker Drivers Case Study and offered tips on proper ergonomics that can have major ramifications for companies.
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Phillips said the keys to lifting and lowering are: get in close; feet at least shoulder width apart; work within the power zone between the knuckles and shoulders; bend your knees; press opposite corners; test the weight; lift the spine in line; pivot your feet (point your toe, step with lagging foot); and whenever possible, use tools and equipment designed to help avoid injuries.
She said sprains and strains account for one-half of the compensable claims among drivers in Florida Rock & Tank Lines, some of which could be caused by exposure to hazardous work conditions.
Ergonomics is the science of modifying jobs to fit the capabilities of people. Why? To reduce strains and sprains or musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). MSD hazards or physical stressors are heavy lifting, awkward bending, repetitive reaching, or working with vibrating equipment.
“If you can modify the job and design out the stress, that’s optimum,” she said. “But that’s not always possible, so therefore you have to train people to work within the limits.
“An ergonomic injury can occur when the motion is repetitive. Awkward posture is when the body isn’t in alignment where the back is straight, elbows are in. When you reach out and go far from the body, that is when there is risk for injury. When you combine force with awkward movements and do it repetitively over an entire shift, you increase the risk of musculoskeletal disorders.”
To do the Ergo 4 Tanker Drivers Case Study, Anderson made an ergonomic process flow chart:
• Step 1: Contact insurance risk-control consultant for information.
• Step 2: That consultant identified Phillips.
• Step 3: She performed an ergonomic assessment, observing unloading and loading.
• Step 4: Initial review identified both equipment and human factors that could be improved.
“I noticed when I did the assessment that there was an obstruction that prevented our workers from accessing petroleum tanker valves in a manner where they were close to the valve,” Phillips said. “If workers aren’t in the right position, it will be like the valve is a lot heavier. That force is 10 times the weight. Muscles in the spine have to hold that up. I really encouraged Florida Rock & Tank to look at this and eliminate it.
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“There is repetition: How many times would drivers have to handle valves in a shift? At least 10, and maybe as high as 40. There is also time duration: They did it for a 12- to 14-hour shift.”
The awkward postures she observed: working in front, straight-legged, with a bent back, reaching to handle the valve; working at ground level, straight-legged, with a bent back; working at knee level; working at ground level, precision work; working at ground level, with trip hazards.
She also observed drivers twisting their bodies in the cab.
“Sitting twisted is a highly risky activity,” she said. “How would you eliminate that simple process? You can place the object in the cab before getting into the truck. When you’ve been sitting for a long time and superimpose a twist, you are really torquing down on the dynamics of your spine. That can be easily eliminated.”
After Phillips and Anderson looked at the hazards, they developed an outline for the training department and looked at some design issues to reduce the depth and narrow the tank’s hose tray. Anderson outsourced the design of a tool to prevent bending from the ground level when opening the fill covers at convenience stores and purchased knee pads for drivers. A prototype tool was developed, field-tested, and modified four times before the final design was approved and they got driver buy-in.
The trainer program was completed and all fleet safety supervisors received initial training, with feedback leading to revisions to the training program. That led to the Ergo 4 Tanker driver implementation process.
In May and June 2012, Florida Rock & Tank Lines implemented the program with driver trainers. Driver trainers conducted ergonomic training with all new drivers as hired. From June to September, safety supervisors conducted ergo training with all current drivers during monthly safety meetings and new ergo tools were issued at that time.
To make sure they were on the right track, Florida Rock & Tank conducted a driver survey to make sure work changes were having the desired results. They looked at course evaluations and conducting regular audits of safe work behavior.
“We’re having better luck with new drivers versus incumbent drivers,” Phillips said. “They (incumbents) like to fight you in things and are not thrilled with change. The goal would be to have a claims reduction. Good ergo design is effective. It reduces back pain, reduces fatigue, and makes you feel good. You’re healthier. It saves you time and money, and everybody comes out a winner. It can be simple and effective.
“The ergo cycle is a lot like American baseball. It has got to start somewhere—from the pitcher’s mound. So it’s about educating you as an organization about some of these techniques and then getting management support when you get back to work, involving employees so there’s buy-in, identifying hazards particular to your work, implementing solutions that address injuries, training your employees on those techniques, and evaluating your progress. Make sure the changes you made are indeed producing the desired results.”