By: Dr. Akhtar Nasim, Sr. Principal Scientist CSIR-CRRI & Prof. ACSIR (University) & Consulting Editor ICN Science & Tech
NEW DELHI: Recently, the health of truck drivers has become a major concern at international levels. Over the years there has been deterioration in driving conditions; simultaneously there is increasing pressures of adhering to the demanding schedule and to make on time deliveries. The drivers have to deal with the failures of the transport system, which results in increased stress levels resulting in adverse impact on the health of drivers.
Prolonged sitting, exposes the driver to vibrations, Whole-body vibration (WBV) occurs when the human body comes in contact with a vibrating surface causing the vibration to transfer to the different parts of the body. WBV is usually transmitted through several critical routes such as the legs, the buttock, the waist, and the back. The degree at which vibration is transmitted in the body depends on vibration frequency, normally at low frequencies i.e. <20Hz. Whole body vibration results into occurrence of chest and abdomen pain, alerting effect, degrades manual action, communication problems, back ache, intestine and bladder pain, degrades manual and visual controls and motion sickness i.e. vomiting inside vehicles. It can have a negative impact on spinal and organ health. Other physical hazards include exposure to emissions, chronic fatigue, and persistent lack of sleep.
Whole-body vibration (WBV), in case of long route drivers is transmitted through the seat or feet of driver, while driving the vehicle. There are many factors that affect WBV level; speed of the vehicle, road conditions, vehicle maintenance, driving experience of the driver, vehicle weight, seat type, vehicle suspension, load, engine’s size, transit flow, driver weight and age, and the most importantly the sleeping pattern . In India long routes drivers, mostly drive during night. They do not follow a proper sleeping pattern; as a result their circadian rhythm is totally damaged. In Indian scenario, sleep pattern of the long route drivers and vehicle design are of major concern and are discussed below.
- SLEEP & CIRCADIAN RHYTHM
Human mind and body requires at least 8 hours of the sleep (36% sleep & 64% awake) to perform perfectly. Darkness is essential for sleep; the absence of light sends a critical signal to the body, as the light stops penetrating through eyes the body’s internal “sleep clock” mechanism starts ; indicating, that it is time to rest. Our body releases chemicals in a 24-hour cycle, nudging us to do certain activities at certain times. Each of these cycles is called a circadian rhythm. Melatonin, a hormone produced in the brain’s pineal gland, also known as the “sleep hormone” or the “darkness hormone” helps initiate the body’s physiological preparations for the sleep, the muscles begin to relax, feelings of drowsiness increases, and body temperature drops. According to a study conducted by Dr. Bertil Hille, University of Washington School of medicine, Melatonin levels naturally rises during the early evening as darkness falls and continues to climb throughout the night between 11pm to 5am. After 5 am the level of melatonin starts declining and remains low during much of the day ; while another study done by Robert Stickgold; sleep, memory & dreams says ; sleep enhances work performance 5 times more than being awake.
A proper sleep benefits in memory consolidation, tissue repair, energy replenishment, information processing, toxin clearance and rebuilding metabolic.
Sleep & Circadian Rhythm Disruption (SCRD) causes psychiatric illness, neurodegenerative disease, ocular disease, societal & 24/7 disruption, aging, stroke & trauma.
- VEHICLE DESIGN
Prolonged driving is very common for truck drivers, so it’s natural to expect truck drivers to sit for long period. It has been observed that in India not much importance is given to the sitting arrangements in long route vehicles specially the trucks, resulting in health hazards of the drivers. Keeping this in mind seats should be built with an ergonomic design and be easily adjustable, so that drivers can adjust the seat to meet their individual preferences. Optional dual armrests and heating and cooling options of seats should be provided. With such innovative features, comfort can be provided resulting in less fatigue.
2B. CLUTCH, BRAKE & ACCELERATOR PEDAL
Luxury buses like Volvo & Mercedes have a balanced design of clutch, brake and accelerator pedal, but other buses and trucks are not provided with such type of design, resulting in great discomfort to the drivers. With minor additional cost, same level of comfort as present in luxury buses can be achieved.
Photo1: Clutch, Brake & Accelerator pedal are well balance position (Volvo/Mercedes Bus)
Photo2: Un balance design of Clutch, Brake & Accelerator pedal (Tata / Ashok Leyland / Eicher ; Bus/truck)
According to our recent study “comparative study on health effects of vibration on drivers with long and short trips” the following observations have been found.
- Long routes driver suffers lots of problems due to improper sleep pattern.
- 30% to 40% truck drivers are suffering from the piles due to continuous driving.
- The clutch plates of the trucks are not well designed. Hence the position of the legs and feet is very uncomfortable. As a result the drivers feel harshness during the drive.
- Long route truck drivers are mostly between 18 to 35 years, they drive for 16 to 18 hours per day without a helper or a substitute.
- Most drivers give up driving at early age due to lack of physical fitness.
- Approximately 20% drivers complain about the back pain in plane area, while approximately 30% hilly roadway drivers complain of back pain.
Hence, heavy roots vehicles should be designed keeping in mind the comfort level of the drivers. Drivers should be given proper training to combat with the situation.