An important new study has evaluated whole-body vibration exposure for locomotive engineers -- comparing different locomotives, seats, and operating conditions.
This first of its kind study concluded that engineers are exposed to relatively high shock content from all directions, and that current locomotive cab seats appear inadequate to reduce the potentially harmful vibrations and shocks conveyed to the seated operator. The study potentially could represent a major step forward toward recognizing a link between whole-body vibration and cumulative trauma disorders suffered by railroaders.
The study, which appeared in the July / August edition of the American Industrial Hygiene Association publication, “AIHA Journal,” examined the ergonomic health assessment on whole-body vibration exposure of locomotive engineers in U.S. freight and passenger railroad locomotives. The effectiveness of vibration reduction of different locomotive cab seats currently in use was also studied.
The study was launched after an occupational specialty clinic recognized that a high number of locomotive engineers were reporting low-back complaints or back-related disabilities.
As the study noted, very little is known about the assessment of workplace conditions and factors in the U.S. railroad system that have been recognized by the National Institute for Occupational Health (NIOSH) as key occupational risk factors for low-back disorders such as whole-body vibration, besides other recognized factors such as lifting, forceful movement, heavy physical work, and awkward posture. The lack of published data related to ergonomic factors and whole-body vibration exposure in the American railroad industry prompted the researchers to delve into this important topic.
The study utilized modern, state-of-art vibration measurements equipment and current measurement guidelines to assess whole-body vibration and shock exposure of seated locomotive engineers and to study the effectiveness of seat vibration dampening. Because of the two basic cab designs in use, (the traditional cab with controls diagonal to the front / left of the operator (American Association of Railroad [AAR] control stand) and the modern cab with a control panel in front of the operator (i.e., desktop console in the new generation “wide body locomotive”), the study’s authors said that locomotive engineers face unique ergonomic challenges regarding operational requirements and body posture. Depending on the control panel design, seats were attached to the floor or the right wall of the cab (a cantilevered seat), which allowed the operator to make seat adjustments and also to enable bi-directional use of the unit.
For further reading, please read the Introduction and Abstract of Findings that have been posted to our firm’s Web site.
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