During our many years of testing long haul truck drivers, I’d like a nickel for every time I’ve heard: “I’ve been driving a truck for 20+ years, why do I have to take a physical abilities test? It’s obvious I can do the job.” Or that I’ve had the company owner challenge Pre-Hire Physical Ability Test (PAT) results with: “Why did that driver fail the test? He’s been driving for our competitor for 20 years?”
Well, unfortunately the 20-year history of truck driving is exactly the reason why drivers may have lost their physical ability to do the job. The physical decline may be partly a byproduct of an unhealthy lifestyle. But it also has everything to do with the amount of sitting drivers do each and every day.
General Health Effects of Sitting. Sitting is now referred to as the “new smoking.” This idea has been confirmed by a study conducted at the University of South Carolina that found that men that sat (either watching TV or driving) for 23 hours per week or more were 64% more likely to die of heart disease compared to men that sat for 11 hours per week or less. This was true even if they exercised regularly.
And cardiovascular health affects a driver’s ability to pass a PAT. If resting blood pressure or heart rate are too high to pass the test, the driver can’t even take the PAT. If heart rate elevates too high during testing, the driver applicant will fail the test.
Association of Sitting with Low Back Pain: The research that links sitting directly to low back pain is controversial. Some studies show a significant increase in low back pain with sitting for prolonged periods during the day. Other studies fail to confirm those findings. One of the reasons for this controversy may be that many of those studies fail to account for the presence of other factors that contribute to low back pain - smoking, poor sleep and nutritional habits, or poor stress-coping skills.
The presence of low back pain can also cause the driver applicant to fail the PAT. Low back pain can inhibit strength in the low back and leg muscles to the extent that the driver can no longer safely lift cargo or a flatbed tarp.
Effect of Sitting on Critical Muscles. Of all the muscles in our body, the good ole’ gluteus maximus - aka our big derriere muscle – is greatly underappreciated when it comes to overall strength, function and balance. And prolonged sitting greatly affects it. Why is that, you may ask?
The answer lies in the fact that when we sit, our hips are bent and the muscles in front of the hip get tight and irritated while the gluteus maximus (on the back of our hip joint) is being constantly put on a stretch. And when muscle are constantly on a stretch, just like a rubber band, over time they weaken - significantly.
Negative effects of a weak “Behind.” So what, you say? What’s the big deal about a weak butt? Well the deal is big because it affects the following functional activities:
- Standing up from sitting. The lower the seat, the worse the problem.
- Standing up from a squatting or kneeling position.
- Lifting heavy objects from the floor or below the knees.
- Taking a full stride when you walk.
- Walking up stairs. The steeper the steps the greater the challenge.
- And it affects how quickly you fatigue when doing the above activities.
So the next time your organization is hoping to on-board an experienced driver, understand that passing a pre-hire/post-offer Physical Abilities Test is not a given. Experience is not necessarily a driver’s friend when it comes to staying physically fit for the job. It will depend upon the driver and how active and healthy he or she is during their off-road activities.
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