Blog - Workplace ergonomics, right on track

Passengers standing on the platform waiting to board one of Auckland's new electric, ergonomically designed trains at Britomart station.

All aboard!

For those of us who work in an office, it’s easy to forget that workspaces and workplaces come in all shapes, sizes and locations.

I was reminded of this recently when I went up to the Human Factors and Ergonomics conference in Auckland. Delegates included a number of academics from the field of ergonomy as well as practitioners and students (studying truck drivers and human behaviour). Overall there were about 35 of us.

Topics ranged from the challenges of working in fishing boats (with processing factories on board, whose workers have to cope with some very icy and continually mobile conditions) to the use of robotics in the forestry industry to reduce injuries and death (developed here in Christchurch in an award winning combination of work between Scion and engineers at the University of Canterbury) to the health risks that truck drivers face with long hours, sedentary work and very often, the added stress of having only one major contract (constantly at risk of losing their main income source).

Another interesting topic (particularly dear to the hearts of Christchurch residents like me) was the designing of roads so that they can be safely shared between cyclists, drivers and pedestrians.

For a small group of dedicated professionals in the ergonomics field, it’s great to see some of the stimulating work that is happening here on our own shores.

With the conference being held in Auckland and with a broad theme of transport, we had the opportunity to look at the new electric trains running from Britomart.  We had a talk from Auckland Transport staff, not only those responsible for getting the new trains up and running, but also one of their experienced train drivers who told us that one of the main challenges they face is moving from an old system that was built in the 1970’s (and which has been refurbished a number of times) to a completely electric, computer operated system. You may be relieved to hear though that for safety’s sake, the trains do still require drivers!

After hearing about the new trains, to give us a compare and contrast experience we all headed out from Britomart station to the next stop, Newmarket, on an old diesel train (noisy, bumpy) and returned on a super quiet, smooth new  train. What a difference, not only for passengers, but also for the drivers who spend many hours working in these trains.

One of the biggest advantages from an ergonomic and universal design point of view was that one of the carriages was at the same level as the station platform, (it had to be the middle one out of the three carriages as there are air conditioning units under the end carriages, which act as the front one depending on which way the train is running). The old trains they’re replacing have at least one, sometimes two, steps to get into the carriage, so if you are trying to get on board with a child in a buggy, or someone in a wheelchair, it’s not easy. These new trains will make life significantly easier.

So well done Auckland Transport, thanks for investing in this amazing upgrade of the train systems; at $70m or so, I’d say it’s a move that will not only benefit the travelling public well, but also those working in this particularly unique workspace.