Study warns poor car choice leads to backache 04 December 2009 by Parkers Poor car choice results in back-related health problems More emphasis on cars as 'tools' needed rather than 'perks' Fleet operators urged to ensure cars are 'fit-for-purpose' Fleet drivers could face serious back problems if they don't start seeing their car as a work tool rather than a perk, claim scientists at the University of Loughborough. Fuelling the potential problem for millions of employees is the tendency to use the car as a mobile office, which they say is symptomatic of a modern sales representative's life. In order to avoid an epidemic of back-related health issues, the research team from the University's Department of Human Sciences has urged fleet operators to make sure vehicles are fit-for-purpose. 'Given that much of the data confirmed the importance of the car as a work tool used for travel, as an office and as a means of transporting items requiring manual handling, it is surprising that these factors were not influential in company car choice,' said the report's author Dr Kate Sang. 'Instead, respondents reported a number of other influences suggesting that the car is viewed not as a tool, but as a perk of the job.'Dr Sang said this was supported by research in other sales sectors where company cars were seen as a key motivator to perform well and as a status symbol. 'Employers should consider the role of car choice in terms of musculoskeletal health and encourage drivers to evaluate the suitability of a vehicle for work,' she added. The team of scientists, supported by Masterlease, questioned more than 200 drivers working for an unnamed pharmaceutical sales company about their working conditions, including their hours, miles driven and the modern pressures of their role. Some surveyed had taken sick leave due to lumbar pain, but the majority were suffering from or had complained of back pain. The research revealed that those who were at risk were working long hours, driving in excess of 20 hours per week, covering an average of 22,000 business miles per year and spending up to 40 per cent of their time using their car as a mobile office. In addition, they shared a high targeted number of sales visits, a lack of knowledge of how to adjust their driving position, carried heavy work-related items and had remote job roles disconnected from their head office. Masterlease has committed to continue to work with its customers to make sure vehicles are fit-for-purpose, while sharing the report's findings with them. 'There is more to company car choice than what it looks like or how it makes a driver feel in terms of status, especially if it ultimately makes the drivers ill,' said Robert Kingdom, head of marketing at Masterlease. 'There is a role for employers to communicate the message that how the car will be used is pivotal to its selection, because getting it wrong will cost businesses dear in terms of lost hours due to ill health and drivers in terms of their long-term health.' For further information and advice visit www.drivingergonomics.com.