The influence of whole-body vibration and postural support on activity interference in standing rail passengers
thesisposted on 13.06.2013, 08:03 by William D.R. Baker
Travel time has generally been regarded as an unproductive period, representing a means-to-an-end in order to engage in activities at specific destinations. Rapid developments in mobile technology have provided people with innovative ways to multi-task and engage in meaningful activities while travelling. Rail transportation specifically, offers passengers advantages over other means of transportation as there is no need to focus on driving tasks. Due to the increase in passenger numbers and limited seating availability in train carriages, over one third of rail passengers are required to stand while travelling (DfT, 2013). The vibration to which rail passengers are exposed has been shown to interfere with the performance of activities and for standing passengers, it is often necessary to use postural supports such as holding on to grab rails or leaning on walls in order to maintain stability. The overall aim of the research is to evaluate the influence of whole-body vibration (WBV) exposure and standing posture on the performance of manual control tasks and the associated subjective workloads experienced by rail passengers. The use of supports, such as a backrest in seated postures, has been found to influence the response of the human body to WBV exposure, yet no reported studies have investigated the effects of postural supports on the response of the body in standing postures. Understanding how the body is affected in these conditions would increase the current state of knowledge on the biomechanical responses of the human body to vibration exposure and provide improved representation of standing postures within vibration standards (for example, ISO2631-4 (2001)) and guidelines for device interface design. A field study, using direct observation, was conducted to assess the behaviour of standing rail passengers and determine the characteristics of typical vibration exposures. This information provided the basis for the design of four subsequent laboratory studies. The main investigations of the laboratory studies were the influence of WBV exposure on objective performance measures, such as task completion time and error rate, and subjective workloads (for example, NASA TLX) for a range of manual control tasks. One of these laboratory studies evaluated the influence of various postural supports (for example, backrests) on the biomechanical responses of standing individuals. Measurements obtained during the field investigation indicated that the vibration exposures did not exceed the EU Physical Agents Exposure Action Value (EAV) and therefore posed little risk of injury. Vibration magnitudes in the horizontal directions (x- and y-axes) were higher than in the vertical direction (z-axis) and it was necessary for standing passengers to alter behaviours and use supports in order to maintain stability while travelling. The results of the laboratory studies indicated that in conditions where decrements in task performance occurred, the extent to which performance was degraded increased progressively with increases in vibration magnitude. There were conditions (for example, in the continuous control task and the Overhead Handle supported posture in the serial control task) where vibration exposure showed no significant influence on performance measures. This suggested that individuals were able to adapt and compensate for the added stress of vibration exposure in order to maintain performance levels however, this occurred at the expense of mental workload. The workload experienced by the participants increased with corresponding increases in magnitude. Vibration frequency-dependent effects in performance and workload were found to match the biomechanical responses (apparent mass and transmissibility) of the human body and resemble the frequency weightings described in the standards (ISO2631-1 (1997)). During the serial control task, the postures which demonstrated the greatest decrements to performance (for example, Lean Shoulder and Lean Back ) corresponded to the same postures that showed the greatest influence on the biomechanical responses of the body. It was concluded therefore, that measurements of the biomechanical responses to WBV could be used to offer predictions for the likelihood of activity interference. Consideration should however, be given to the applicability of this research before these results can be generalised to wider contexts. Further validation is recommended for future work to include different conditions in order to substantiate the findings of this research.