Chauffeurs Face Occupational Health Concerns

Posted on February 1, 2005 by LCT Staff - Also by this author

In my experience as a chauffeur, I have been fortunate to see many limousine service managers who are very concerned with the safety of their employees and customers.

Most take great care to maintain their vehicles, checking tires, wiper blades and brake pads to ensure limousines will safely carry their precious cargo to their destinations.

However, employers and employees in our business should realize that a driver’s seat can expose a chauffeur to a variety of health and safety hazards aside from those on the road. After many miles, such environmental factors can pose serious risks to the health of professional drivers.

Fortunately, a few simple measures can be taken to minimize these risks. Managers and chauffeurs need to work together to make the job a healthier one so our next run won’t be to the doctor’s office.

Environmental Factor #1: Air Quality

Sitting behind the wheel, chauffeurs feel protected from the outside environment by a steel frame, shatter-resistant glass, crumple zones, airbags and seatbelts. In fact, these things do a very bad job of protecting us from the most common and persistent environmental hazards.

Air pollution pervades the driver’s workplace, but our bodies are designed to ignore it, just as we grow accustomed to so many other stimuli at the periphery of our awareness.

Both gasoline and diesel fuel exhaust as well as the dust from asphalt roads are known to contain chemicals that cause cancer. A Canadian study of nearly 4,000 cancer patients found that exposure to gasoline and diesel emissions was associated with an increased risk of lung, colon and rectal cancer.

Another study by the American Health Foundation found that even after eliminating the effects of smoking, occupational exposure to exhaust emissions has doubled the risk of cancer for drivers.

These are troubling findings for those of us who spend our workdays on America’s highways. On the road, the vehicle’s fresh air intake is only a few feet above the surface of the street, where the concentration of pollutants is the highest. The car’s windows are located in the same zone. This means that with the “fresh air” vent or windows open, all those chemicals are being sucked up and blown in for us to breathe.

To prevent this, switch the climate control from vent to recirculate more often and be conscious of leaving windows open. When driving down a country road, feel free to open the vent or windows, but while sitting at idle with thousands of other vehicles in a traffic jam, it’s best to roll up the windows and switch to recirculate. At these times, the air in your limousine is a lot cleaner than the surrounding air, no matter how stuffy it feels!

Environmental Factor #2: Stress and Diet

A chauffeur’s life is often an unpredictable one. I can’t recall how many times I was just about to head home for the day when a last-minute job sent me right back out on the road.

At times, I’ve served as an impromptu babysitter, photographer and even a tour guide. These roles are part of what makes a chauffeur’s job so rewarding and so much fun. Years of such unpredictability can take its toll on our health, however.

Studies of professional drivers from around the world have shown that occupational stress may be the cause of gastrointestinal diseases, musculoskeletal disorders and heart disease. Studies in Denmark have found a link between professional driver stress and abdominal and lower back pain.

A study in Sweden has shown the effects of what researchers call “decisional latitude,” meaning the degree of control one has over the workplace environment. It was noted that when professional drivers experience especially low decisional latitude, they are prone to pain and stiffness in the neck, upper limbs and back. Still more research has documented increased incidence of high blood pressure and heart disease when drivers are confronted with daily time pressures, traffic noise and congestion, vehicle vibration, pollution and social isolation.

Working alone and having an unpredictable schedule hardly encourages us to practice good dietary habits. Eating on the run is pretty common for chauffeurs.

Chronic stress and a poor diet prevent our bodies from protecting us from a battery of other environmental effects. To perform at our best, which is critical as we spend so much of our time on the road, we need to seek balance in our lives, both in diet and degree of daily stress.

While pre-packaged roadside snacks may be an unavoidable aspect of driving, try to balance those foods with fresh fruits and vegetables. At least once a day, grab a fresh salad at one of the many fast-food chains that offer them. Try to plan for meal breaks to keep snacking at a minimum or pack a healthy snack to bring with you.

Planning among managers and chauffeurs can help combat many daily stress producers by allowing enough travel time between jobs and by ensuring job responsibilities are clearly defined. If you use GPS, you can initiate a program to reward slower driving speeds (between 55 and 65 mph) to discourage rushing. As a bonus, slower driving reduces fuel consumption.

Environmental Factor #3: Posture and Ergonomics

We all know what it feels like after three or four hours of driving without a break. Our lower back is painfully uncomfortable and our legs are nearly numb. Few drivers must endure such long periods of sitting statically in the same position. But for chauffeurs, it’s a painful and regular part of our job.

It’s important to realize that our discomfort is telling us something: If we don’t change, we’re going to do some permanent damage to our bodies. According to researchers at the UK’s Loughborough University, there is no such thing as permanently good posture. All postures ultimately lead to discomfort, so it’s important to adjust our posture frequently and take a 15-minute break after two hours of driving.

Before setting off on a trip, take a moment to become aware of the position of your driver’s seat, especially if you weren’t the last driver in the vehicle. To prevent discomfort and provide an optimal driving position, adjust the driver’s seat as high as is comfortable to ensure the best view of the road. Then move the seat forward until you are just able to fully depress each pedal with your foot. Adjust the tilt of the seat bottom so your thighs are flat against the cushion with as little gap as possible, but also making sure to avoid pressure points, especially just behind the knee.

Avoid reclining the seat too much, certainly not beyond 30 degrees from vertical, as this can cause strain on the neck and shoulders. Lastly, adjust the height of the headrest so it’s behind the head and not the neck. In the event of an accident, its location is critical for preventing serious neck injury.

These steps will take only a minute or two each time you drive, but they can prevent years of pain and discomfort. Take care of your body while on the road so that it can take care of you and your passengers.

With a bit of awareness and a few simple actions, we can work together to ensure that being a chauffeur is a career that coincides with a healthy lifestyle. After all, a healthy chauffeur is a happy chauffeur, and a happy chauffeur is bound to make for many happy customers. For more information, visit www.drivingergonomics.com.


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