Gone are the days of loggers toiling in the great outdoors enduring the elements and demands of strenuous physical labor. As the industry has become more mechanized, those who work in the logging sector are more likely to be driving a truck or operating heavy equipment. In fact, in 20 short years the logging profession has transformed from one of the most physically demanding jobs a body can withstand to one of the most static workplaces a body can survive. While traumatic and fatal injuries have substantially reduced, the rate of “soft tissue” or “repetitive motion” injuries is on the rise.
Like traditional office workers, skilled machine operators’ workdays are long, inactive, and highly repetitious, and are done from small cubicle-like spaces. However, the logger’s cabicle is exposed to dangers beyond those an office worker is exposed to. Whole body vibration, constant jarring, temperature extremes, poor air quality, elevated noise levels, and a production pace being driven by other team members combine to increase the hazards of machine operation. Extended workdays (often 12 hours) exacerbate all issues by increasing exposure and decreasing recovery time. Traditional equipment cabs were not intended for these extended shifts.
Enter the modern logging machine cabicle. These things are awesome, equipped with all the features of your favorite ManCave. The newest equipment offers amenities designed to accommodate operators of all sizes and make their workday as productive and pain free as possible: adjustable seating and controls, climate control with hepa filtration and aromatherapy (okay, we might not be quite ready for that one), heated/cooled air-ride seats, lunch box heater and cooler, XM radio and Bluetooth, and noise reducing features. With an environment like that who would want to leave? But having all of these amenities comes at an ergonomic cost. On a good day, when nothing breaks down, an operator may exit the cab only a few times in a 12-14 hour shift resulting in increased seat time further limiting physical activity.
But let’s return to reality for just a minute. Not all machines are delivered with all the high end options and the majority of our rolling stock is older equipment not equipped with the latest features and will continue to be in service for many years. So, here’s what you can do, regardless of how new or old your cabicle is, to minimize your exposure to ergonomic risk factors:
- Use the full range of adjustment options to create a workspace that allows your body to stay as close to neutral posture as possible.
- Exit the cab for whole-body stretching–especially for the back. A brief walk will increase circulation bringing necessary nutrients to tissue and remove harmful toxins which concentrate when circulation slows.
- Stay hydrated. All functions of your body perform best when fully hydrated–even your brain. Dehydration has been shown to adversely affect decision making ability and cognitive performance, which may impact job productivity and safety. In the summer, air conditioners remove much needed moisture from the air. In the winter, cold dry air lacks adequate moisture for respiration and must be hydrated by the moisture in your lungs.
- Find ways to incorporate physical activity into your daily routine–both at work and at home.
While the transition to a more mechanized industry has reduced the most life-threatening injuries, the impact of long term logging equipment operations on chronic adverse health conditions has yet to be fully understood. With the term “sitting is the new smoking” being echoed by researchers again and again, incorporating these recommendations will be a much needed improvement to your overall health and wellbeing.