Working in transit

Working remotely may necessitate travelling. This might include driving between city and rural campuses or flying to interstate or international locations. Travelling can be fatiguing for a range of reasons including early starts, interruption to routine and time zone changes. There are also some risky aspects to travelling, including but not limited to, long periods of driving, sustained sitting in fixed postures, working in sub-optimal environments and handling luggage.

The following sections provide some useful tips relating to driving, flying and luggage selection and handling to make your journey easier and safer.

Tips for driving

Setting yourself up properly for a long trip or even a short one can make the journey far more comfortable and safe. Familiarising yourself with the vehicle and making appropriate adjustments to suit your body dimensions and comfort is vital, particularly if you are in a University fleet car or rental car.

  • Securely stow any items in the rear boot. Unsecured items in the cabin of the vehicle can behave like missiles in the event of sudden braking or collision
  • Ensure you familiarise yourself with all vehicle adjustments, controls and displays before commencing your journey
  • Slide the driver's seat forwards so your whole foot comfortably connects with the pedal and your thighs are relaxed and supported. Your knees should be slightly bent. Locking your knees can restrict blood circulation and gives you less control over ankle movements. You should be able to actively lift up either foot when operating the pedals without any strain or discomfort
  • Recline the back support to between 100-110 degrees (shoulders behind hips) and sit right back in the seat so your lower back is well connected to the back rest (no gap). This hip angle reduces the load through the discs in the lower back. The aim is to move or ‘hinge’ from the hip joint, not the back
  • Adjust the integrated lumbar support so that it firmly and evenly conforms to your lower back curve
  • Check the height of the driver's seat. Raise or lower the seat so that you have a good view through the windscreen, sufficient head clearance and clear visibility when the sun visor is down. Ensure there is sufficient clearance for your legs under the steering wheel including sideways leg movement for operating the foot pedals. Ideally your hips should not be lower than your knees. Sitting at the correct height can greatly improve your driving comfort
  • Check the steering wheel position. Evidence recommends hand placement at 9 o'clock and 3 o’clock for maximum vehicle control and upper body posture. When your hands are grasping the wheel at these locations, your shoulders and upper arms should be relaxed and elbows slightly bent. This minimises the fatigue on your shoulders and allows your arm muscles to reflexively engage and respond more quickly if required. Adjust the steering wheel height and/or proximity by releasing the lever at the base of the steering wheel column so that you can position your hands/arms as described above. Sitting too close or too far from the steering wheel can result in reduced steering control. Being very close to the wheel increases the risk of facial injuries in the event of airbag deployment
  • Adjust all mirrors to allow maximum visibility with minimal neck movement
  • Position the top of the headrest at the top of your head or at least as high as the top of your ears, so the bulk of the headrest sits behind your head. Ensure the back of your head is no more than about 5cm from the headrest. This position will minimise rearwards and forwards neck and head movement in the event of a collision
  • Adjust the seat belt height on the B pillar so it connects at the point of the shoulder, not higher up the neck. Ensure the shoulder strap is flat and diagonal across the body and the lap belt is flat and low on your hips and securely connected. The same applies for any passengers
  • You should be able to move and shift in your seat without detracting from your driving. This will relieve pressure points and keep blood circulating during longer drives. Staying in a static position for too long can result in sustained compression of the discs in the lower back, pooling of blood in the feet and general fatigue
  • Ensure mobile devices are secured in approved fixed mounted cradle or turned off so as not to cause distraction
  • Ensure you are wearing supportive well-fitting footwear
  • Break the journey at least every 90 minutes to stretch and revive
  • If you are a passenger ensure you adjust your seat for comfort and never position your feet on the dashboard. If you suffer from back soreness pack a small hand towel or pillow to place in the small of your back to provide some extra support as the passenger seat rarely has supplementary lumbar support

Tips for flying

Flying, especially long distances involves prolonged sitting in fixed postures. This can result in stiffness and discomfort as well as pooling of blood in the legs which in turn may cause swelling. There are multiple things you can do to optimise your health and safety whilst flying - including moving, stretching and keeping hydrated. Some of these tips can also be applied to long train travel:

  • Consider packing a few simple items in your carry-on luggage on long flights to maximise your comfort
    • a small hand towel or pillow to place in the small of your back to provide supplementary support.
    • a stretchy resistance band which you can use to stretch out while you wait to board your flight or in your hotel room
    • a tennis or lacrosse ball to massage tight areas in muscles or trigger points. Self-massaging is “especially great for the gluteal (butt), hamstring (backs of legs), and paraspinals (muscles on either side of the spine).”
  • Before your flight and during any stopovers, make the most of the airport terminal space and stretch your legs by walking around and minimising sitting.
  • Recline your seat rearwards to reduce the load through the lower back when resting. Be sure to ‘hinge’ from the hip joint
  • Follow any in flight exercise advice that can be carried out whilst seated such as exercising the calf muscles and circling the ankles to stimulate blood circulation
  • Get up from your seat to move and stretch at least every 60 minutes
  • Avoid long periods working on a laptop. The available space (especially elbow room) in an economy seat plane is limited and makes it difficult to adopt a favourable posture.
  • Engage the tray table when reading or using your phone. This will allow you to support your forearms and reduce the need for forwards neck movement which creates tension and load in the neck and back.

Additional travel health tips can be found at https://www.traveldoctor.com.au/healthy-travel-facts/flight-health-tips

Tips for selecting and handling luggage

  • When selecting and packing luggage consider how it will be handled. Ensure you select luggage that is suited to your travel, sturdy and light weight. The larger and heavier your luggage, the more at risk you are for neck, back, and shoulder injuries
  • Two smaller bags may be easier to handle than one large bag. Carrying a piece in each hand enables a more balanced symmetrical posture
  • If using a wheelie bag, select one with 4 wheels and an adjustable height stalk handle with an additional side handle.
  • Wheel a wheelie case along close to the body with the hand positioned close to the side rather than with the arm outstretched behind which places more load on the shoulder and neck.
  • If using a backpack ensure you select a lightweight model with padded and adjustable shoulder straps and a waist strap to balance and distribute the load. Pack the heavier things low and towards the centre. Avoid slinging a backpack over one shoulder as it does not allow the weight to be distributed evenly and can cause muscle strain. Avoid carrying around a backpack or day pack weighing more than 10% of your body weight for long periods.
  • If using a shoulder bag, alternate sides regularly or position diagonally across the body
  • Do not rush when lifting or carrying luggage. If it is too heavy and awkward, wait and seek assistance where possible.
  • Avoid twisting your body when lifting and carrying luggage. Point your toes in the direction you are headed and turn your entire body in that direction.
  • If handling luggage into an overhead aircraft locker, use 2 hands and balance it on the top of the seat as an intermediary step before placing it into the locker.
  • If handling luggage into the rear boot of a vehicle, secure it close to the front of the boot (handle facing outwards) to reduce the reach requirement and to the left (kerb) side so it can be unloaded away from moving traffic. A towel or rug draped over the lip of the boot can allow you to ‘roll’ the luggage over the lip and reduce the handling and subsequent load on the body.