How I got into trucking

Many years ago I was invited to far north Vancouver Island to teach horse riders better seat and posture, but what I left with was a new level of understanding of how biomechanics can help industry.

My lovely hosts arranged a tour of the forestry industry while I was there (this appears to be quite the tourist thing to do in the area). Honestly, I wasn’t interested in forestry at all, and knew very little about it.

I arrived and there had been a mix-up (thank you Universe!). The ‘tour’ somehow didn’t happen that day, but my hostess had already dropped me off and left. The boss was so sweet – he said he was touring the entire facility anyway, and I could ‘tag along’ with him for the day.

Well – what a day we had! We drove all over the massive property, and I was impressed that it was a planting program as much as a forestry program. But it was at the end of the day, when we returned to the production area that changed my career forever.

For ‘a bit of fun’ they invited me up into this huge big rig that lifted massive logs all day long. When the operator looked behind him, I could see his back “twinge”, and the all too familiar look of “no pain no gain”, and “I’m going to tough it out”.

There were only the two of us in the machine, and I said to him “why on earth don’t they move the steering wheel on the other side of the machine if you spend all day twisted, looking behind you.”  I felt so sorry for the pain he was in, and no way to really help him unless they changed the machine.

When I came down out of the massive machine, I then saw a bunch of women they call “scalers”. Their job is to measure the massive logs that are put up on a huge table. But the table was quite low, and they spent all day bending and twisting down to measure the logs.

Worse…they also had a small (but quite heavy) computer strung around their necks to enter the data. All day long this thing was pulling on their very delicate necks.

The women told me there were many days off work, lots of pain, and no chance of fixing it because of the poor design of the table – and the computer dangling off their neck all day long.

When I mentioned something, they begged me not to say anything to the bosses…but hey…anyone who knows me – I’m an Aussie and we stand up for the little man! And, I’m a bit of a blabbermouth anyway…so I went straight to my new friend, the boss, who had been driving me around all day.

“Thanks for letting me see the production area. Gee your staff love you” I said.

“That’s great to hear” the man said “we really love our staff, they become friends in such a small town. We know all their families, and their kids, it’s a very tight team”.

“That’s so wonderful you’re great friends, it helps you put off the lawsuit”

“Lawsuit?” he said, looking panicked!

“Yes, I notice that the big machine has the steering wheel on the wrong side. Just a few thousand dollars could stop a lawsuit. And, lifting the tables for the scalers, and putting the computer on a simple trolley – just a few more thousand – that could save you millions. Your staff are just wonderful that they don’t sue you. They really must love you.”

Needless to say he was shocked, and didn’t really say much.

It was the end of the day, and I said goodbye, and didn’t really think about it again, being on tour teaching and speaking.

It wasn’t until a hand-written letter managed to reach me (not easy when you’re always on a speaking tour).   It was from the old man’s wife from the big machine.  I still have it to this day, and this is what it said:

Dear Miss Kelly,

I am writing on behalf of my husband Peter, who cannot write personally, as he did not complete his education and cannot read or write.

We both want to thank you for changing our lives – completely. After your visit, the very next week the company executives had engineers come all the way up to the yard, all the way from Vancouver to change the steering wheel of Pete’s machine from front to back. 

But they also did something else that was amazing. They built up the scaler tables so the girls don’t have to bend any more. And, they also had a local metal worker make little trolleys so their computers can be next to them all the time, but they don’t have to carry them around.

I was so worried. This is a small town, and there are no jobs except in forestry or fishing – either one is going to wreck my husband’s back even more. He had gotten to the stage where he was taking medicine every day, and couldn’t even help me with the groceries.

With the steering wheel on the other side, he is not in any pain any more from looking behind him all day. The pain is gone. But for me, it’s the change in his personality. I don’t think he’d mind me saying he had become ‘the grumpy old man’. Now, he has turned back into the man I married. But it was yesterday that prompted me to write to you. I enclose a photo that literally explains everything.

I cannot thank you enough. You have changed an entire town in one visit, and you didn’t even come officially, you were just visiting for the children’s horses – and yet you changed so many lives in just a few hours.

God bless you Colleen (I hope you don’t mind me calling you that, seeing we haven’t met – but you are indeed now a true friend).

Your friends from the north,

Peter and Margaret

[enclosed was a photo of Peter rolling in the grass with his grandchildren and a little dog. I’m pretty sure I cried at the time!]

As the previous Spokeswoman for the WorkCover Authority of NSW, I have always had a major interest in industrial and commercial occupational health and safety. For example, I was instrumental in having roll-bars made mandatory in all tractors in Australia when at the time tractor injuries were the number 1 work related injury in Australia.

But until that letter I didn’t realize how you could change an entire industry in just a few hours.  I will never forget that letter, and I have had the joy and honor of helping industrial and commercial workers regain their lives, and industry leaders avoid potentially crippling lawsuits.

Below is a wonderful, simple study from very reliable sources studying one simple thing that could change lives: adjustable truck seats.

Take a look at this remarkable study by Cardoso M1McKinnon C2Viggiani D2Johnson MJ3Callaghan JP2Albert WJ1. published in US National Library of Medicine National Institute of Health (PubMed) on-line library:

Biomechanical investigation of prolonged driving in an ergonomically designed truck seat prototype.

Abstract

A postural evaluation during a prolonged driving task was conducted to determine the ergonomic validity of a new freely adjustable truck seat prototype. Twenty participants were recruited to perform two 2-h simulated driving sessions. Postures were assessed using motion capture, accelerometers and pressure pads. Subjective discomfort was also monitored in 15-min increments using ratings of perceived discomfort (RPD) and the Automotive Seating Discomfort Questionnaire. Participants had a more neutral spine posture during the first hour of the drive and reported lower RPDs while sitting in the prototype. Pairing the gluteal backrest panel with the adjustable seat pan helped reduce the average sitting pressure. The industry-standard truck seat may lead to the development of poor whole body posture, and the proposed ergonomic redesign of a new truck seat helped improve sitting posture and reduce perceived discomfort. Practitioner Summary: A new freely adjustable truck seat prototype was compared to an Industry standard seat to assess hypothesised improvements to sitting posture and discomfort for long haul driving. It was found that the adjustable panels in the prototype helped promote spine posture, reduce sitting pressure and improved discomfort ratings.

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