Bus Drivers and Ergonomic Evaluation

¶ … drivers endure a multitude of work-related health issues due to the nature of their work. They drive consistently long hours. They must be weary of potential accidents, and do not receive high pay. This can lead to a higher than normal employee turnover rates, which lends to a lower quality of service for customers. Researchers have aimed at aimed at identifying what specific work-related health problems plague bus drivers.


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Research shows bus drivers often suffer from high blood pressure and musculoskeletal pain in the form of neck and low back pain. This may be due to constant vibration while driving and an ineffective seat and bus driver cabin. Another potential cause for these illnesses is the constant stress of the job. Bus Drivers cite the risk for potentially aggressive passengers and bad weather conditions as major stressors.


This dissertation is meant to show through interviews with bus drivers and managers and a literature review, how driving long hours can be detrimental to the health of a bus driver. Furthermore, how ergonomic evaluation may help ease the burden bus drivers have every day during long driving shifts. The results of the interviews and the literature review revealed several determiners of stress and occupational hazards for bus drivers. From low pay to bad weather conditions, bus drivers must also contend with poorly designed seats and bus driver cabins that lend to low back pain, and early leaves from their jobs.


Ergonomic evaluation is a way the UK and Europe can improve the occupational health and safety of bus drivers. By improving the design of seats, to restricting the placement of bus stops, steps can be made to improve the work environment for bus drivers in the UK and Europe. This is a qualitative study and used the answers of 9 bus drivers and 3 bus managers to understand the overall picture of bus driver occupational hazards.


1. Introduction


a. Background


Chronic health problems arise from a multitude of things. When they are work-related, they can be difficult to prevent. Bus drivers experience work-related illness at a higher rate than workers in any other occupation or industry (ATU, 2016). Work-related illnesses can come from contraction of common diseases due to the close proximity of numerous strangers entering the bus each day. Bus drivers may also become chronically ill due to the position they are seated in, in the bus for hours at a time. Job-related hazards from bus driving contribute to a 120% above-average rate for chronic illnesses (ATU, 2016). When research identified the epidemic of work-related illnesses in bus drivers, some researchers decided to identify ways to prevent and combat the problem. The first step was ergonomic evaluation.


b. Ergonomic Evaluation


Bus driving can be a difficult activity to manage over time. Bus drivers often experience lower back pain, pain in the ankles, neck, and knees from their continued sitting position (Tranchard, 2012). It is a demanding job and bus drivers in the UK and Europe require development of comfortable seating via ergonomic evaluation to successfully endure long driving hours. Ergonomic evaluation, also termed workstation assessment, guarantees that a bus driver’s workstation is ergonomically designed to maximize productivity and lessen risk of injury (Patchong, 2014). Assessments are also performed in order to support the decrease of employee turnover rate that rises due to work-related injuries.


Ergonomic evaluation considers driver fatigue comprising of cognitive and/or physical fatigue. “Physical fatigue is related to perceptual-motor adjustments specific to the driver task and to discomfort caused by prolonged sitting. Cognitive fatigue can be subdivided in task-related and sleep related fatigue” (Vink, 2014, p. 522). While possible countermeasures to physical fatigue include passive/active micro-movements along with stimulation of macro-movements, sleep-related fatigue within the cognitive fatigue area is known to be intervention-resistant (Vink, 2014). This means ergonomic evaluation should aim for elimination of physical fatigue.


Fatigue symptoms are a common occurrence for bus drivers throughout the world, especially for the UK and Europe. A recent study examined the effects of bus driving for prolonged periods of time along with overall job quality compared to coach drivers. The researchers noted the multitude of health problems bus drivers experience due to their long work hours staying seated. “…the risk of heart disease for bus drivers to be twice that of their conductor colleagues. They also suffer gastrointestinal disorders, musculoskeletal problems and poor mental health (Williamson et al., 2013, p. 189). The study also stated bus drivers endure high amount of fatigue, stress and low job satisfaction. They mentioned the European Working Condition Survey as considering bus driving in Europe, to be the worst for working conditions, working hours, and potentials risks of physical violence.


c. Occupational Stress and Stress Prevention


Bus drivers go through many challenges when performing their duties. They encounter violent outbursts from customers (Williamson et al., 2013), they have back problems, among other health problems; all of which contribute to high employee turnover rate (Lannoo and Verhofstadt, 2016). The high turnover rate is due to high demands (making it to each bus stop on time, dealing with traffic), low support (little in terms of ergonomic design for seats, no set structure to enable exercise or physical therapy), and low control (cannot choose shifts at times, or how to meet the demands of the job) (Lannoo and Verhofstadt, 2016). Because of the constant occurrence of reported occupational stress in bus drivers, it can no longer be considered an infrequent occurrence. Occupational stress in bus drivers is a wide-ranging phenomenon both in the UK and throughout Europe (Patchong, 2014). Therefore, exploration of measures that can improve and prevent occupational stress for bus drivers is necessary. One such potential solution is ergonomic evaluation of seating and position of bus driver while working.


Bus drivers endure physical fatigue and stress, creating potential occupational hazards and safety concerns due to the nature of their work. They work long hours, typically in the same position for hours at a time (Arezes et al., 2013). When they drive, they must deal with difficult access to their bus cabins due to engine placement and old seating that is not ergonomically designed. “…it was observed that the bus cabins of all companies surveyed did not allow easy access due to the presence of the vehicle engine. The height and distance from the steering wheel did not allow the driver a good posture” (Arezes et al., 2013, p. 602). When seating is not ergonomically designed, it creates potential problems for the bus driver’s posture, back, and appendages.


This dissertation will provide an analysis of what potential solutions ergonomic evaluation offers bus drivers and what current problems bus drivers face while working long hours. This is a qualitative study that will highlight responses from 12 participants (9 bus drivers and 3 managers) from 3 different bus companies in the United Kingdom. The interviews will provide the basis from which to understand how beneficial ergonomic evaluation is to the occupational health and safety of bus drivers. The literature will provide supplementary information that will allow for proper understanding and analysis of the problem and potential solution.


2. Problem Statement


The title of bus drivers comes with the potential of several health problems. This is due to the main job responsibilities of a bus driver like long work hours and uncomfortable seating. Preventative measures must be taken in order to reduce bus driver turnover rate and increase comfort for on duty bus drivers. The focus of the qualitative study is on ergonomic evaluation and the ways in which it can improve bus driver occupational health and safety. Because of the growing evidence of work-related illnesses for bus drivers, the potential solution of ergonomic evaluation may become a standard practice that could minimize the risk of physical fatigue development and occupational hazards for bus drivers in the UK and Europe.


Although some bus companies in the UK and Europe have included ergonomic evaluation in their repertoire of preventative measures, evidence still shows work-related health problems remaining as the primary concern for bus drivers and high employee turnover rate (Musson, 2013). This could be due to a failure to create a standard or practice, or improper adherence to policy. If the issue of occupational health and safety does not have a solution, it could lead to continued work grievances and work-related diseases for bus drivers.


3. Research Questions


• Can ergonomic assessment lead to effective preventative measures for bus drivers during long shifts?


• What entails ergonomic evaluation of bus cabins?


• How is physical fatigue and stress lessened through the implementation of ergonomic evaluation?


• What standards do bus companies implement in relation to ergonomic evaluation?


• If bus companies in the UK and Europe have already implemented ergonomic evaluation, has implementation improved bus driver health outcomes?


4. Significance of the Problem


High employee turnover and increased health problems associated with bus driving are important measures to combat and prevent. Because employee turnover for bus drivers remains so high, bus companies do not have effective and experienced bus drivers working for them. Less experienced drivers lead to more fatal car and vehicle accidents (Scenario Committee on Accidents and Traumatology, 2012). Without the necessary standards and strategies to minimize bus driver turnover rate, bus companies could face continual instability, prompting lower quality service for customers and decrease profits for bus companies.


The various health problems that bus drivers experience on an ongoing basis due to their occupation like high blood pressure, obesity, and back/neck problems (Committee, 2012), adds to the high employee turnover rate and quality of driving/service customers experience. If bus drivers receive training to combat physical fatigue brought on by long hours driving and receive a cabin that is ergonomically designed, this may help combat the chronic physical ailments that plague bus drivers in the UK and Europe. This may also lead to higher quality service and driving for bus companies, which leads to higher customer satisfaction and increased profits.


5. Literature Review


This literature review will focus on the history of buses in the United Kingdom and the employee turnover rates that have become so synonymous with the occupation of bus driver. Several articles will highlight studies that cover bus driver sickness, high employee turnover, work disability, and absenteeism. Other articles will cover constraints within a bus driver’s working situation as well as examination of how ergonomics and ergonomic layout of the bus driver’s cabin contribute positively to occupational health and safety outcomes.


a. Historical background on bus driving in the UK and turnover rates


The United Kingdom has a rich history of bus use. What began as the horse bus era, John Greenwood began the first omnibus service in the UK in 1824, along the route of Pendleton and Manchester. It was a horse-drawn omnibus that the middle-class preferred over taking a more expensive cab ride. “This no-frills vehicle was ‘little more than a box on wheels’. Although short journey stagecoaches were not new, the omnibus plied for hire along its route, picking up and setting down passengers along the way” (Higgs, 2014, p. 82). At the time, Higgs explains, omnibuses were staff by a conductor and driver and drawn by two horses. Even at the time, the conditions for the omnibus were horrendous.


Higgs goes on to explain the presence of fleas in the dry hay that lined the floor and the filth and ague that came when the hay became dirty and wet. “The interior of the omnibus is notoriously stuffy and poorly ventilated, with no air except when the door is opened. Add in the team of damp umbrellas and the hazard of pickpockets and you have the journey from hell” (Higgs, 2014, p. 83). Although the conditions were hard to contend with as a passenger, it must have been worse for the driver and conductor who had to endure these things every single day for hours at a time. Even in the beginnings of bus transport in the UK, drivers had to deal with a myriad of problems that contributed to the occupational stress and hazards they experienced while working. Couple that with longstanding low-wages, bus drivers have had it rough for a long time in the UK. One website states the monthly salary average for bus drivers in parts of Europe and in the UK at $1,900 (UK) and increasing only to $2,300 in Norway (Worldsalaries, 2016).


Following the horse bus era, came the first motor buses. While some experiments in public transportation came in the form of 1830’s steam buses, 1903 saw the official start of motor bus services, first in Eastbourne, then in Helston (Dodgshon, 2013). With a decade, they replaced horse buses and grew to over 3500. “By 1913 there were 3500 licensed buses in London, each seating 35 passengers. By 1914, because of their speed, low fares, appeal to the working class and the ease with which they could be placed on new routes, they were a close competitor to the electric tramway in the capital” (Dodgshon, 2013, p. 471). With the increase of motor bus usage in London and the growing appeal of bus use among the working class, bus drivers had to contend with new hurdles that horse buses did not have to deal with consistently. Some of those problems came in the way of more exposure to diseases (Dodgshon, 2013), and an increased workload due to higher demand.


In the decades that followed the use of motor buses in Britain, came a nationalization of bus services with the Transport Act of 1947 allowing the BTC or British Transport Commission to acquire Thomas Tilling bus services as well as the large independent Red & White (St. John Thomas, 2014). After the war era, poor management of buses, coaches, cars, and railways led to reassessment of working practices due to the seemingly high employee turnover rate seen with bus drivers (Anderson, 2004). Bus drivers had to endure several hours of strangers entering and leaving the bus with sicknesses or violent outbursts that although only happened on occasion, took a toll on many bus driver’s health as they became increasingly stressed, sick, and fatigued (Anderson, 2004).


These books and articles help gauge how, over time, the working conditions have not changed, but have only continually gotten worse. As more and more people use the buses, and more and more bus drivers are needed, the need for occupational health and safety increases. This section helps develop a better understanding of the need to change the underlying problems that have plagued bus drivers for the last century.


b. Related Studies after 2012 covering Bus Driver Sickness, Work Disability, High Turnover, and Absenteeism


One 2012 quasi-experimental study examined the effect of urban bus driving on bus drivers in relation to musculoskeletal problems and blood pressure. Researchers noted high levels of stress consistently related to poor health outcomes. The study stated bus drivers continually endure long work hours that then contribute to more cases of high blood pressure than in other jobs. They also recognized higher instances of musculoskeletal problems associated with long hours driving in the same position (Johansson et al., 2012).


Researchers determined bus driving in an urban setting coupled with long work hours can lead to potentially toxic psychosocial and physical problems that take the form of high stress, high blood pressure, and musculoskeletal problems. “The findings provide evidence for a positive association between the number of hours of bus driving and blood pressure and musculoskeletal problems” (Johansson et al., 2012, p. 89). This is just one of many studies noting the effects a high stress job like bus driving has on a person and the need to re-evaluate the way bus drivers work, especially during long hours. Another study analyzed work disability among bus drivers due to the constant physical and mental stress bus drivers endure while on duty.


The 2016 study stated bus drivers compared to other occupations suffer and experience much higher rates health problems and work absences, and permanent disability rates. “In comparison with other jobs public transport drivers show an increased risk in job related health problems. The consequences are frequent and long absences from work as well as temporary and permanent disabilities for driving services” (Bockelmann, Arlinghaus and Nachreiner, 2016, p. 1). The increased number of absences, the permanent disability not only lends to problems for the bus driver, but also for the bus company as both lose money from the lack of availability. This study provides the basis from which to highlight the major problem with bus driving and the long-term consequences of working in such a profession.


The study also makes a point to include the kinds of interventions that may help alleviate the problem. “While no substantial evidence was found for the long-term effectiveness of person-oriented interventions, interventions addressing the work load of the drivers directly by improving their working conditions seem to be more effective, supporting the importance of structural prevention over behavioral prevention” (Bockelmann, Arlinghaus and Nachreiner, 2016, p 1). They note that person-oriented interventions are not as effective in the long-term as addressing work load problems via improvement of working conditions. If, for example, a bus company improves the bus cabins and makes them more spacious, easier to get out of, and more comfortable to sit and move around in, bus drivers will not experience as many health problems as they would if they do not make these kinds of changes.


Another study considered what specifically causes high stress for bus drivers that then leads to high levels of absenteeism, health problems, and turnover rates. The 2013 study stated the stress comes from schedule adherence and weather conditions. “Results indicated bus drivers experienced considerably lower stress levels under a new control strategy that shifts the performance objective from schedule adherence to service regularity. Higher stress levels were recorded during extreme weather conditions and peak hours and among inexperienced drivers” (Hlotova, Cats and Meijer, 2014, p. 13). In order to alleviate the stress experienced by bus drivers, bus companies need to focus on promotion of service regularity and not schedule adherence. Furthermore, a potential gap in literature is identifying whether or not bus companies train bus drivers to drive in poor weather conditions and if such training can or does ease stress for bus drivers. Overall, it is interesting to see that certain things promote stress, while others decrease it.


Stress creates higher levels of employee turnover among bus drivers. It also contributes to a higher absence rate, especially short, unscheduled absences. A 2014 study covering bus driver absenteeism shows why such absences occur. Some of the reasons are due to higher than desire scheduled work days, transfer shifts, work interruptions during busy days, holidays, and lack of monetary incentive.


…the model results suggest that it would be wise to avoid Thursday, Friday, and Monday scheduled interruptions by the agency, such as training activities or business meetings, while it is encouraged to allow these interruptions during Tuesdays and Wednesdays. In addition, it is suggested to minimize scheduled interruptions for regular drivers as much as possible during the months of December, November, and October. Furthermore, the results indicate that it would be wise to decrease the number of drivers that work spares for one day or more during the week. It is also recommended to decrease the number of drivers that shifts between garages, while accepting the time shifting between the time periods. In addition, it is also suggested that more than five days a week of scheduled work should be reduced, since it increases the drivers’ probability of being absent. In addition, the model results suggest that it would be effective to avoid scheduled interruptions during the second half a booking. Furthermore, providing incentives to reduce drivers’ absence to those who start their work during the early morning and late morning period assignments and who work from any location along the network is recommended (Diab, Wasfi and El-Geneidy, 2014, p. 36 ).


Bus companies can create ways for bus drivers to feel better and work more. They must do this by decreasing situations that promote stress and increase the use of monetary incentive to encourage less absences and fewer employee turnover rates.


c. Constraints within the Working Situation


Bus drivers have several limitations within their work place. They must adhere to set schedules, avoid car accidents, and restrain themselves against unruly passengers. These constraints take a toll on bus drivers as the previous section shows. This leads to higher employee turnover rates and an increase of younger, less experienced bus drivers. A 2016 study observed key characteristics of bus drivers that led to an increased rate of traffic and on the road vehicle accidents. The key characteristics were age, education, and experience. “…age, education, and experiences were found to be statistically significant predictors. Since these three variables can be influenced using appropriate hiring policies and implementation of best practices, this report should be of particular importance to standards development, recruitment, and driver training” (Wen, Li and Liu, 2016, p. 43).


This study helped highlight the reason why constraints stress bus drivers. Bus drivers are often young, inexperienced, and lack proper training to handle the constraints placed on them during work. Their long work hours lead them to face a multitude of potential problems on a daily basis. This can create havoc for a bus driver and propagate an already growing problem. Constraints must be evaluated in order to understand the kinds of problems bus drivers face while on duty.


As mentioned prior, one of the biggest constraints bus drivers face is scheduling. Whether it is maintaining a schedule for each bus route or scheduled work shifts, bus drivers often cite the biggest stressor and constraint as scheduling. A 2013 study sought an effective solution strategy for scheduling problems within the urban bus transportation industry. Their solution involved using an algorithm that promoted flexibility and partial shift changes. However, the problem of driver rostering was not effectively explained or answered via their solution. “The constraints of driver rostering generally correspond to the constraints of other typical applications such as nurse rostering, crew rostering, or operator rostering in call-centers” (Toth and Kresz, 2013, p. 3).


A major constraint among bus drivers is avoiding car accidents or any other problems while driving. Considering bus drivers work for long hours at a time, this is a major concern. A 2014 study analyzed the possible issues bus drivers face while working. The researchers also shared a possible solution in assigning shorter bus routes or shorter buses to less experienced drivers.


Results were indicative of possible confined road-space issues that bus drivers face along routes with roadside traffic friction and point to the provision of exclusive right of way for buses as a possible way to address this. Results also suggest benefits in assigning routes comprising mainly divided roads as well as newer and shorter buses to less experienced drivers (Goh et al., 2014, p. 20).


These kinds of solutions aim at decreasing the likelihood of accidents while driving as well as decreasing the stress of an inexperienced driver. The problem lies however, in the number of experienced versus inexperienced bus drivers. Many of the bus drivers are inexperienced. This is due to higher than normal employee turnover rates. Although the solution seems like an easy and effective one, it is unlikely to be carried out as imagined due to the lack of experienced drivers in bus companies.


Time is an important constraint to examine in relation to bus driving. Bus drivers need to be on time most of the time in order to keep customers happy and continue producing profits for bus companies. A 2013 study looked at bus dwell time defining bus dwell time as time spent at or by the bus stop including passenger boarding/alighting, along with time spent closing and opening bus doors (Meng and Qu, 2013). The researchers assumed by estimating bus dwell time, this could help the time constraint bus drivers endure through more accurate prediction of how long bus stops take. While the study does not consider traffic times and potential accidents, it is a step forward towards removing limitations brought on by time and scheduling.


Removing some of the stress of driving on bus routes by giving more accurate times will enable better performance among bus drivers. Bus dwell time also promotes more effective placement of bus stops. “…curbside stops are easy and inexpensive to install, easy to relocate, and provide easy access for bus drivers causing minimal delays to buses. However, they may potentially impede car flows and encourage drivers to make unsafe lane changing” (Meng and Qu, 2013, p. 3). Placement of bus stops along curbs has its positives and negatives. However, such changes can help an overwhelmed bus driver by shortening the bus dwell time.


A potential gap in literature is determination of traffic times and incorporating such estimates into bus schedules. If bus companies determine with greater accuracy, bus stop times, the stress placed on bus drivers may be minimized. Time is an important constraint to assess when it comes to reducing stress for bus drivers that work long hours. Important consideration for time, scheduling, and other constraints will enable improvement for bus drivers and occupational safety and health.


d. Ergonomics and Ergonomic Layout of the Bus Driver’s Cabin


Ergonomic evaluation is an important part of any solution in regards to occupational health and safety. Bus driver cabins are the areas in which bus driver sit and drive for hours at a time. They must be ergonomically designed in order to relieve the stress of sitting and being in the same position for a long period of time. Any tools or software that can monitor or assess the bus driver cabin or console in terms of if being ergonomic may potentially greatly relieve the burdens bus drivers experience while performing their driving duties.


A 2016 article discussed the use of a computer-based expert system named SONEX that was created to recognize ergonomic risks for WRMSDs or work-related musculoskeletal disorders in occupations like bus driving. The system provides expert prevention advice and uses a rule based along with six knowledge base modules. The modules include: “two main knowledge base modules (symptoms, engaged body part) with four supplementary knowledge base modules (work environment, work chair, work tools, organization factors)” (Pavlovic-Veselinovic, Hedge and Veselinovic, 2016, p. 130). As users input information, their responses allow the system to create potential recommendations that may help alleviate any potential discomfort for the user working.


The researchers noted the system’s ability to predict potential WRMSDs. “SONEX relates ergonomic shortcomings in the job with worker’s subjective symptoms; it predicts possible WRMSDs; and it offers preventive suggestions for ergonomic improvements to the job to prevent WRMSDs” (Pavlovic-Veselinovic, Hedge and Veselinovic, 2016, p. 130). The advantages of the system are that in terms of ergonomic evaluation it is fast and easy to do compared to other methods and it can be used by workers, other professionals, or ergonomists. This article introduces a novel and potentially easy, effective way to assess a bus driver cabin for ergonomic efficiency that the bus driver can do without the need or introduction of an expert or ergonomist.


Ergonomics is an integral part of any occupation involving long hours of repetitious movements such as driving, sitting, opening/closing doors. One article stressed the importance of ergonomics and the need to implement preventive and corrective measures as part of ergonomic evaluation. “…using tools of ergonomics and engineering, such as interventions based on anthropometry, organization of working time, changes in the working methods, reorganization of production layout and equipment introduction aid to the implementation of tasks” (Coelho et al., 2016, p. 1). One part (organization of working time) was previously covered in relation to time and scheduling. The article highlights the importance of organizing time efficiently.


If bus companies in the UK and Europe were to organize working time for bus drivers effectively, this will be one part of ergonomic evaluation. Another part is changes in the working methods. These two aspects of ergonomic evaluation can be used together to produce a more suitable work load for bus drivers. Focusing on time constraints, developing work methods that reduce time constraints, may produce a positive outcome for bus driver. Ergonomic evaluation thus provides the foundation from which to customize and implement an effective approach to bus driver occupational health and safety.


For buses, benefits from space saving technology brought on through ergonomic evaluation could entail an increase in general bus driver cabin space or a minimization in the general length/weight of the vehicle that may help with traffic situations in urban areas. Ergonomic evaluation may help bring in consideration for an elevated seat posture that research shows might lessen the strain on drivers during work hours, as it is nearer than that of a conventional seat to a standing posture (Antonelli et al., 2013). Space saving technology could help bus drivers not just in terms of seating, but how they drive the vehicle.


The essential purpose of a bus driver’s seat and cabin is to be safe and comfortable for the occupant as well as facilitate effective driving. Research states that a seat needs both dynamic and good static factors to help aid in overall seat comfort (Antonelli et al., 2013). Moreover, comfortable body angles identified and approved by studies examining comfortable driving postures may allow easier development of seating and bus driver cabins that promote occupational safety and health for bus drivers.


Some within the bus European bus industry have desired to implement changes to buses. An article discussing a five-year long project called the European Bus System of the Future was commissioned and backed by the European Commission. They funded the project to develop a new generation of bus systems that could augment and improve the attractiveness and image of buses. The project involved selection of seven European cities. “Seven European cities were selected to test the innovative measures described in this paper: Bremerhaven, Germany; Brunoy, France; Budapest, Hungary; Gothenburg, Sweden; Madrid, Spain; Rome; and Rouen, France” (Musso and Corazza, 2015, p. 109). The article explains the results provided the basis from which to develop an evaluation of barriers that may hinder/endorse transferability of measures across cities. This is just one way Europe is attempting to modernize and improve the image of bus systems.


In conclusion, this literature review has shown the need for bus improvements due to the various stresses and health problems endured by bus drivers. Bus drivers suffer from high blood pressure and musculoskeletal problems that often contribute to a high employee turnover rate. By applying ergonomic evaluation to the bus driver cabin through alterations in seating, improving scheduling times, and creating/altering bus stops, bus companies can provide a better and more manageable workplace environment for bus drivers.


The next section will explore the current working conditions of three bus companies in the United Kingdom. Although bus companies in Europe are trying to improve the image and conditions of buses, interviews may show a clearer picture. By interviewing bus drivers and managers, the information derived will be insightful when compared to the information garnered from the literature review.


6. Methodology




Several UK bus companies (3 in total) were contacted and recruited for participation in this study. Pseudonyms were used for these three companies in order to maintain privacy. All the bus companies reside in the United Kingdom.


1. The first company given the name Largebus is a big independently owned company, with an estimated 173 buses and coaches for their branch fleet, they offer timetabled bus services.


2. The second company given the name Smallbus, is a private, small company, with a fleet of 70 drivers, offering private hire coaches and timetabled bus services.


3. The third is a local-government owned bus company given the name, Localbus that has a fleet of 85 buses, offering timetabled bus services.


Formal interviews


Short Semi-structured interviews lasting approximately 15 minutes each were carried out with 9 drivers, 3 from each bus company. The interviews enabled exploration of firsthand bus driver experience. All participants in the interview were male, age 30-45 with the average age being 37. The average length of service for participants was 10 years with some going as high as 22 years working as bus drivers. Participants were recruited based on availability.


Interviews were also conducted with 3 managers, one for each bus company to discuss their specific roles in the company. Information on procedures and policies were obtained for one of the three companies (Localbus). Five questions were asked per driver/manager. The questions related to sickness absence, accident rates, job satisfaction, staff turnover, and potential for improvement. These questions were asked via telephone with managers answering questions via email.


The informal interviews were supplemented with research data as well as observations through information collected from the bus companies. No physical visits were carried out due to lack of availability of bus drivers and managers. The period of the study was one week and all participants’ information were kept private with participants having the option of not giving a name. The only discernable information given was age, gender, and race. The intention of the interviews is to collect and compare outcome data such as staff turnover, health problems, ad sickness related absences and see if these problem reach across several companies or exist within some companies.


The five questions asked to the nine bus drivers and managers are as follows (some modifications were done for the managers):


• How many days have you experienced a sickness related absence and why?


• How many accidents have you had in the last year and why?


• Are you satisfied with your job and job duties?


• Have you witnessed any other bus drivers quit in the last year, if so what may have been the reasons?


• What can the company due to improve your work environment?


Modified questions for bus managers:


• What are the average number of sickness related absences and what may have caused it?


• What is the average number of accidents the company has experienced in the last year and what may have caused such a number?


• Have bus drivers in the company reported high levels of job satisfaction, if not, why?


• How many bus drivers have voluntarily quit in the last year, give reasons?


• What can be done to improve the work environment for bus drivers?


These questions provided enough information from which to guide the review of supplemental literature. The literature was reviewed from results obtained through multiple academic search engines. The first is Ingentaconnect, a multidisciplinary academic search engine. JSTOR, another multidisciplinary academic search engine. Finally, the last academic search engine used was Springerlink.


The articles used were three in total and were used to provide additional clarity and relevancy to the answers given by the participants. The articles/studies had to meet some requirements. Similar to the literature review, they could not be older than 2012. They had to be peer-reviewed, and they had to provide information pertaining to bus drivers and the work environment for bus drivers. The research method used for this study was qualitative.


The qualitative technique encompasses “participant observation, in-depth interviewing, and others, that yield descriptive data” (Taylor, Devault, & Bogdan, 2015, p. 4). Data collection using the qualitative method must primarily come from interviews. Twelve participants comprised of twelve men (men were the only ones available at the time), were needed for qualitative information gathering. The goal is to formulate general, open-ended questions to allow potential for conversation. This means expanding the question to include a potential complex answer.


The focus is on ergonomic evaluation for the supplemental information and bus driver work environment for the interviews. Ergonomic evaluation plays an important role in bettering the working environment of bus drivers by promoting sound business practices that enable occupational health and safety. The interviews offer a look at potential need for ergonomic evaluation while the supplemental literature will confirm the benefits of ergonomic evaluation in relation to some of the potential problems observed from the participants’ answers to the interview questions.


Due to the nature of delivery of interview questions, answers were transcribed while on the phone or collected as written responses via email. Brief notes were made for the phone interviews noting the tone and inflection of the respondents. Observation notes as well as interview transcripts were imported and coded into NVivo. A framework of main work aspects was identified and derived from literature in regards to ergonomic evaluation and provided the initial coding. Additional revision was made in order to account for incoming interview responses.


7. Results


Sickness- Related Absences


Many of the respondents (bus drivers) cited on average an amount of two weeks’ worth of sickness-related absences for the last year. Their reasons were slips on icy or wet roads, stress-related sickness, neck and lower back pain, and inability to deal with certain scheduled days like holidays.


Literature supports the correlation between low back pain and professional driving. One article that discusses whole-body vibration in urban bus drivers, discusses a set point a human body can withstand vibrations before experiencing low-back pain. “The Exposure Action Value (EAV) is a daily amount of vibration exposure above which employers are required to take action to control exposure, and the Exposure Limit Value is the maximum amount of vibration an employee may be exposed to, on any single day” (Lewis and Johnson, 2012, p. 519). 8 of the 9 Bus drivers that participated in the study noted back pain. This was especially common among the drivers working in their respective position for over ten years. One participant stated he has constant neck pain on the right side. He said he uses his right arm and hand to open and close bus doors daily.


When it came to the managers, they stated many have complained of the bus cabin. They shared bus drivers felt uncomfortable after long hours of driving in the bus cabin and was cumbersome exiting and entering the cabin after or before shifts and before and after breaks. Managers shared many of the absences are due to illness, in particular chronic pain. They stated low back and neck pain as the main causes of chronic pain.


Accident Rates


Most of the respondents have not had accidents for the year, although two had small accidents where they either lightly grazed or bumped into a person running in front of the bus. 100% of bus driver respondents stated how difficult it is to drive in bad weather conditions and how difficult it is to drive in the city, especially when people cross the street. Sometimes people do not look when crossing and make it hard for the bus drivers to break on time causing the two accidents earlier described. A 2013 book on contemporary ergonomics includes a study evaluating the accident rates of bus drivers and includes the higher likelihood of accidents due to weather conditions or fatigue from long driving hours. “Around one-third of drivers had at least one crash, nearly half cross the centerline and almost all crossed the road edge at least once. Most crashes occurred in the first half of the drive” (Anderson, 2013, p. 193).


As for the managers, they noted 25% on average of reported accidents. They also shared that long work hours and weather conditions exacerbated the accident rate. Specifically, they noted during the holidays when it is snowing and raining, there will be a higher rate of accidents. Managers have stated they are trying to create shorter shifts so bus drivers experience less fatigue, especially during the winter months as the UK experiences a decent amount of rainfall and snow in the fall, winter, and sometimes spring.


Job Satisfaction


Job Satisfaction is an integral part of maintaining employees in the company. Bus drivers interviewed noted an inherent dissatisfaction with the job for several reasons. The main reasons that became apparent was lack of pay, lack of options, and demand for strict adherence to schedules. One participant noted the breaks at the bus depots lacked clean restrooms and the scheduling often included longer than expected work hours. 100% of participants stated they did not enjoy working as a bus driver and only did so due to the lack of options of employment elsewhere. The most experienced participant, a bus driver for 22 years, noted no additional perks for the amount of experience and complained about the wages, citing the wages do not make up for the disgruntled passengers, bad weather, long driving hours, and back pain.


Managers for each of the bus companies noted the high employee turnover rate, sharing the pay as the number one reason for the voluntary quits and two-week notices. They also stated the scheduling and subsequent scheduling conflicts made it harder for them and the bus drivers to maintain a set rhythm as everyone was focused on maintaining on some level adherence to schedules. They also shared some of the reasons why bus drivers may not be satisfied with their job is lack of variety. Driving the same routes, at the same times, every day tended to put people off and they would leave within 5-10 years.




75% of bus drivers interviewed noticed one or two bus drivers quit last year. The more experienced bus drivers also noted the higher amount of new bus drivers each year. One noted the desire to quit soon due to the constant stress brought on by job duties. He stated there was so much emphasis on performing well every day and how difficult it is to maintain health when constantly worrying about driving. 100% of bus driver respondents shared how they spend the majority of the time at work driving, seated in the same position for hours at a time. The inherent lack of quality break time, and constant redundancy creates an undesirable environment.


This undesirable environment could be alleviated with higher pay. The bus driver participants at the Largebus independently owned company receive higher pay than their Smallbus or Localbus counterparts, causing them to stay longer. One article notes the significance of financial incentives to keep people working and decrease employee turnover rates. “Presumably, if financial incentives erode intrinsic motivation, we would find them to be negatively related to performance for intrinsic tasks. The data show otherwise. It doesn’t matter what kind of work people are doing- financial incentive improve performance” (Shaw and Gupta, 2015, p. 287). If bus driver in general, receive a boost in pay or cash bonuses for good driving, they may be more inclined to stay.


Managers interviewed stated of the available bus drivers, on average 10% left annually. The reasons given were low pay, work-related health problems, stress, and better employment options in other areas. They also shared the lack of variety as a reason for high employee turnover rates. The nature of the job and the lack of variety lends to a greater desire to leave.


Ways to Improve


100% of the participants suggested higher pay as a main way to improve the working environment for bus drivers. They also noted improvements in bus cabin design and specifically chair design would greatly improve the overall work load. The Largebus company’s bus drivers stated their bus cabins have been improved and feel more comfortable working longer hours in them. The Smallbus has older buses with seating that was not ergonomically evaluated, and thus was harder to sit in for prolonged periods of time. 66% of the bus driver participants shared a desire to have better seating in the bus driver cabins. The other 33% stated they were happy with the cabins, but desired improvement in scheduling and shifts.


Managers wanted to have higher pay options for bus drivers, but the bus companies had budgets that could not take into account the higher wages. Manager respondents also noted in the Smallbus and Localbus the need to update the interior of buses, especially the bus driver cabin. However, budget constraints limited the potential amount of buses that would get renovated and updated. Managers also shared the potential improvements concerning detours, and bad weather conditions. One manager respondent stated as an example, the dispatcher could be a source of encouragement and support. By removing the additional stressor of bad interactions with dispatch, this may improve the overall work environment for bus drivers.


Word Cloud from NVivo using answers from Interviews is below as Figure 1.


8. Discussion


The bus driver respondents provided the basis from which to delve deeper into the literature. Their answers guided the direction of the study along with the answers of the managers. The lack of pay along with the stressful nature of the job created a hazardous work environment with little reward. This then created a lack of desire to continue working in such an occupation after a certain number of years. The most experienced bus driver of 22 years noted he was a rare occurrence. Most left after 10 years of service.


Another occurrence not mentioned in the results section was the obesity seen among bus drivers. Although not mentioned within the set of interview questions, bus drivers often suffer from obesity. “The most prevalent health problems among bus drivers were musculoskeletal disorders, ulcer, hyperacidity, obesity, hypertension and diabetes. There was a significant (p<0.05) correlation between the chance of bus accidents and occurrence of low back pain, leg pain, neck pain, hypertension and migraine” (Sadri, 2015, p. 39). The low back and neck pain was discussed among the bus driver participants. They noted the vibration of the chair while driving long hours attributed to the low back pain and the constant opening and closing of bus door attributed to neck pain.


It is difficult to surmise if lack of movement or lack of comfortable seating attributes to the myriad of health problems bus drivers experience. If ergonomic evaluation takes into consideration a mainly sedentary work life, possible solutions may lie in more breaks where bus drivers can exercise or in the very least go for a brief walk and stretch. This could be something to consider for future studies as a possible solution for some of the maladies plaguing bus drivers.


In relation to the research questions, the bus driver respondents from Largebus noted higher comfort levels with new bus driver cabins and seats. Ergonomic assessment can lead to improvements to the occupational health and safety of bus drivers, especially as it relates to improving the seating of bus drivers. Because bus drivers spend the majority of their work time driving, they need a comfortable seat that allows them to move in and out easily. Long shifts, especially during bad weather can be stressful. Providing new chairs and comfortable seating material has improved the overall sentiments and health of the bus drivers interviewed.


However, this is just one aspect of ergonomic evaluation. Ergonomic evaluation requires looking at other possible solutions. Research suggested the idea of repositioning bus stops closer to the curb. Anything that makes the job of loading and unloading passengers along bus routes easier should be something considered. This is especially true for bad weather conditions where bus drivers tend to have the most accidents. Bad weather is a stressful time for bus drivers and evaluation must take it under consideration.


Ergonomic evaluation entails several things as it relates to bus cabins or bus driver cabins. First and foremost, a bus driver cabin must be made so the bus driver can exit and enter easily. Older designed cabins do not keep that in mind and make it more difficult for bus drivers towards their start or end of shifts and taking breaks. Furthermore, seating is taken into consideration.


Bus drivers interviewed noted chronic pain, in particular the neck and low back area. Ergonomic evaluation would consider what can be done to minimize the vibration of the seating and what material may help bus drivers feel more comfortable while seated for long hours. These are just some things to consider along with what the literature review mentioned, an interactive console that automatically assessed the state of the bus driver and recommended solutions. This may not be something most bus companies can afford, but is something worth looking into.


Physical fatigue and stress is lessened through the implementation of ergonomic evaluation by redesign of bus driver cabins and seating to include an easier way of exiting and entering. Some bus companies have also addressed the placement of bus stops (Tirachini, 2014). Bus dwell time and more accurate determination of bus dwell time can lead to more accurate schedules for bus drivers and perhaps a lesser chance for stress among bus drivers. Bus drivers interviewed noted scheduling as a constant source of stress. They stated the need to adhere to schedules consistently.


Some of the standards bus companies implement in relation to ergonomic evaluation includes new seating, new bus driver cabin designs, and new buses. New buses contain more space for passengers, more ways for the bus driver to navigate his or her job duties faster and easier (new consoles, new seating, etc.). What is often ignored is the possibility of bus drivers dealing with disgruntled passengers. By implementing the use of new buses that have more space and allow more maneuverability within the bus, this can help diminish the likelihood of aggressive or disgruntled passengers.


The last research questioned asked if bus companies in the UK and Europe have already implemented ergonomic evaluation, has implementation improved bus driver health outcomes? The answer is yes when proper ergonomic evaluation has been implemented. The literature review noted the project in the UK to improve the image and appeal of buses to the public. And as seen in the interview, some profitable bus companies have taken to redesigning and using new buses within their fleet. However, the change has been slow. Small bus companies have not had major changes to the buses nor has anything outside of the bus been taken into consideration like cleaner restrooms for bus drivers on break, and anything that could help bus drivers deal with high blood pressure, stress, and so forth.


This simply shows that the transition remains slow and steps must be continually implemented to provide support and relief to bus drivers. However, the biggest means of support may not just lie in ergonomic evaluation, but also higher pay. Pay was a big determiner for employee turnover rates among the bus drivers interviewed. Research also noted the lack of sufficient pay for the bus driver occupation across the world.


Ergonomic evaluation helps provide betterment in relation to occupational safety and health. The higher wages contribute to the desire for bus drivers to remain working as bus drivers. Ergonomic evaluation is a necessary component for improving the working conditions of bus drivers in the UK and Europe.


9. Summary and Conclusion


In conclusion, bus drivers experience a multitude of problems while working long hours. They may encounter bad weather conditions, which lead to potentially higher accident rates, to work-related illnesses. The literature review highlighted the need for ergonomic evaluation to provide possible solutions for the working conditions of bus drivers. Potential solutions lie in upgrading seating and bus driver cabins to changing the placement of bus stops.


The interview of bus drivers and managers showed bus drivers across different bus companies in the UK experience the same dissatisfaction with their jobs, which leads to high employee turnover rates. Research shows many of the bus drivers that drive work for more than ten years, experiencing high blood pressure and musculoskeletal problems like low back and neck pain and the participants of the study noted chronic pain as their main reason for sickness-related absences.


10. Recommendations


More research must be conducted on the long-term effects of bus driving and long driving hours. This should be done across various parts of Europe as many research articles focus on American bus drivers or UK bus drivers. Furthermore, more research should be done on ergonomic evaluation in terms of seating and bus driver cabin design. The constant vibration of the seating while driving attributes to the low back pain experienced by bus drivers. Future studies must also include female bus drivers as they are increasing in number. They may experience different work-related health problems than men.




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