Guest Column | January 9, 2024

Why Fleet Owners Must Prioritize Reducing Exposure To Whole-Body Vibration In Vehicles

By Emily Newton, Revolutionized


Trucking can be a more hazardous profession than it initially seems. Fleet owners must contend with distracted driving and numerous traffic-related risks, but it’s important not to overlook the less obvious dangers of the job. The health effects of whole-body vibration (WBV) deserve attention, too.

WBV is exactly what it sounds like — mechanical vibration you feel throughout your entire body. Drivers often encounter it as vehicles shake from engine motion or bumpy roads. While it may seem insignificant, fleet owners should be aware of the long-term effects of whole-body vibration.

Health Effects Of Whole-Body Vibration

Whole-body vibration has short- and long-term health effects. The former may cause immediate dangers to drivers, while the latter is harder to spot in the moment but often more threatening.

Short-Term Effects

The most obvious short-term effect of WBV is discomfort. That’s not ideal in any workplace but can quickly become dangerous when behind the wheel of a moving vehicle. The less comfortable drivers are, the more fatigued and easily distracted they become.

Studies have found that just 30 minutes of WBV is enough to induce significant drowsiness. At a certain point, this becomes nearly as dangerous as intoxicated driving, as it has similar effects on your attention and responsiveness. Stress and frustration from uncomfortable vibrations can limit drivers’ awareness and reflexes.

Vibrations also can impair drivers’ sense of balance and coordination. This makes responding to sudden traffic changes harder, potentially endangering them and other people on the road in an emergency.

Long-Term Effects

The long-term effects of whole-body vibration are even more impactful. While drowsiness and discomfort can appear almost immediately, some vibration-related conditions take months or even years to develop. Consequently, you may not recognize the toll WBV has taken until it’s too late.

Chronic neck and back pain are among the most common long-term effects of whole-body vibration. These conditions build slowly, making it increasingly challenging to perform even basic tasks comfortably. In some cases, they may become severe enough to cause permanent nerve damage.

Over extended periods, WBV also can cause bone damage, respiratory disorders, and reproductive issues. If drivers already have these conditions, WBV could worsen their symptoms. Poor posture and diets — which are also common in this industry — exacerbate these adverse health effects.

How To Reduce Whole-Body Vibration Exposure

Given the substantial health effects of whole-body vibration, fleet owners should do everything possible to prevent it. Thankfully, WBV is manageable if managers and employees pay enough attention to its causes. Here’s how fleets can reduce WBV and its adverse effects.

Keep Vehicles In Top Condition

Regular maintenance — which fleets should already practice — is one of the most important steps in preventing WBV. Timely oil changes will minimize friction to reduce engine vibrations. Inspecting the cabin interior to ensure nothing is loose also will help.

Tires are among the most crucial maintenance concerns for vibration prevention. Fleet owners should regularly inspect them for uneven wear and balance them accordingly to ensure they deliver the smoothest ride possible. Proper inflation and alignment are similarly important.

Predictive maintenance practices are ideal, as they’re more effective at keeping vehicles in top condition for longer. Some fleets have saved millions in repair expenses by implementing predictive maintenance, so it’s a good way to save money while protecting drivers.

Install Air Suspension Seats

Better seat suspension significantly impacts felt vibrations. While many older trucks use mechanical suspension seats, fleet owners should consider switching to air-ride alternatives. The pneumatic support in these seats keeps them from hitting the cab floor, ensuring drivers don’t experience their truck’s vibration in full force.

Air-suspended seats have the added benefit of being more adjustable. While that may seem like primarily a comfort issue, it makes it easier for drivers to sit ergonomically, regardless of their build. Consequently, they can adopt better posture to offset some of the health effects of whole-body vibration.

Train Drivers On WBV Risks And Best Practices

WBV prevention is more than just a managerial issue. Much of it also relies on specific driver behaviors, so thorough training is crucial.

All drivers should know how severe the long-term effects of whole-body vibration can be. Once you understand the importance of WBV prevention, you’ll pay more attention to related best practices. These include adjusting air suspension seats to your height and weight and moving the chair to sit more ergonomically.

Fleet managers should also stress the importance of checking truck tires during long trips. Unexpected wear and tear can happen anytime, so thorough inspections are essential to spotting and fixing issues that may increase vibrations.

Use Advanced Route Planning

Route optimization software also can prove useful. A lot of in-cab vibrations happen because of bumpy roads. Considering these factors when planning delivery routes lets you avoid the worst road conditions to ensure a smoother, less damaging drive.

Over 40% of American roads are in poor or mediocre condition, so bumpy drives may be more common than they initially seem. These rough patches are sometimes unavoidable, but AI-assisted route planning software can find efficient ways around the worst areas. Knowing where the inevitable bumpy patches are is also helpful, as drivers can understand where to slow down to minimize vibrations.

Encourage Breaks

Fleet owners should stress the importance of taking breaks on long drives. Federal law requires drivers to take a 30-minute break after eight consecutive driving hours. However, it may be best to encourage shorter rests within that eight-hour time frame to prevent the worst effects of whole-body vibration.

Similarly, fleets should schedule drivers so everyone has extended nondriving periods between long hauls. The more rest employees get, the more effectively you’ll combat chronic WBV effects.

Fleet Owners Must Prevent Long-Term Effects Of Whole-Body Vibration

The health effects of whole-body vibration are nothing to take lightly. As easy as these risks are to overlook, they can seriously impact driver safety in the short and long term.

Learning about these hazards is the first step to preventing them. Fleet owners who know why WBV is such a risk and where it comes from can take more effective action against it.

About The Author

Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized. She regularly explores the impact technology has on the industrial sector.