Dissertation research: the impact of ergonomic training for bus drivers

Many bus drivers suffer from lower back pain because they maintain the same posture for hours on end every day and are exposed to whole-body vibrations. However, increased ergonomic awareness through active training can eliminate a lot of complaints, according to the master's dissertation written by Dr. Karolien Lauwers, company doctor at Mensura. She conducted the study at the transport company Keolis with the support of the Belgian Federal Agency for Occupational Risks (FEDRIS).

The lower back pain suffered by bus drivers remains an underestimated problem. In order to determine whether training can reduce ergonomic stress and vibration load inherent to the profession, Karolien Lauwers surveyed the transport company Keolis.

There, she asked 60 bus drivers to complete a questionnaire about work-related back pain and the associated risk factors. Afterwards, the participants were instructed in, among others, the causes of back pain, a healthy lifestyle, proper posture and seat adjustment, proper lifting techniques, a modified driving style and physical movement exercises.

A significant improvement

Three months later, Karolien surveyed the bus drivers again. Her findings? As a result of her intervention, the prevalence of lower back complaints (during the last 7 days) had decreased from 39.6% to 14.9%. It also showed that bus drivers were much better informed about the correct sitting posture.

Most of them were also more aware of the importance of back pain prevention. They indicated that they would gladly keep paying attention to their posture now that they knew how to do it.

Vibration measurements on the bus

Karolien was also able to plot the vibration load thanks to the assistance of FEDRIS, provided at no cost. This involved one of the organisation's engineers taking measurements in nine Keolis buses, each time following the same route and driven by the same driver.

The vibration levels measured remained within the legal limits, both in terms of intensity and shock load. However, one bus exceeded the action value for intensity and four buses the action value for shock load, which forced the employer to develop an action plan to minimize the vibration load. Keolis has therefore further improved its ergonomic policy to promote the well-being of its employees and reduce absenteeism.

The key to pain reduction

Although more research is needed, it is worth noting that informing bus drivers proactively and raising awareness of the problem does help. Now that they know about the various ergonomic improvements, they can take steps to reduce their lower back pain. This allows them to minimize health risks themselves, which is something that clearly motivates them. 

Naturally, transport companies must also take action to reduce whole-body vibrations and ergonomic stress, and therefore back problems. This involves seats fitted with a pneumatic suspension system and providing practical training on seat adjustment, ergonomic postures, back exercises, and so on. Together, both companies and their employees can therefore contribute to optimal ergonomic comfort.