A long road trip is often enough to cause a driver some bodily discomfort, but for city bus drivers for whom driving makes up the greater part of their day, that discomfort could have a lasting impact on their health, according to new research.
Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) research titled, Not Just and Ache: Examining the Rate of Musculoskeletal Pain in City Bus Drivers, by Jeremy Steele, examines the rates of musculoskeletal discomfort in a sample of 957 city bus drivers at Seattle-based King County Metro. The report also reflects how often such pain prevented drivers from doing their normal work, required treatment from a medical professional, or led to one or more worker’s compensation claims.
The research builds on existing research that consistently shows that bus drivers experience higher levels of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) than both the general population and other employees at transit agencies. Recent literature specifically focused on bus drivers’ high exposure to whole-body vibrations (WBVs) as a potential source for musculoskeletal disorders.
Based on surveys using the Nordic questionnaire, the following are key findings:
- 85% of bus drivers reported having developed an injury or pain in at least one part of the body in the past 12 months;
- 60% reported lower back pain or injury;
- 51% reported discomfort in the shoulders;
- 47% reported knee pain or injury;
- and 46% reported neck pain or injury.
Additional findings indicated that rates of pain were higher among women than men with 95% of women reporting pain versus 81% of men. Furthermore, 30 to 40% of respondents who had pain in the last 12 months were prevented from doing their normal work, causing 35 to 45% of that group to seek medical attention for those injuries or pains.
Future research on the subject should consider factors like pre-existing conditions and the potential of other factors that may contribute to the driver’s musculoskeletal health. Perhaps the most important policy recommendation from this study is the need for significant, high-level interventions at transit agencies to mitigate potential sources of musculoskeletal pain in bus drivers. The large gap between the number of workers who visited a medical professional for their pain and the number who applied for worker’s compensation suggests the existence of a large, but yet unrealized, financial burden on King County Metro.