New technology provides stress map for workers on the move
The software – piloted with bus drivers in the city of Porto, Portugal – is the first to bring together data from a wearable electrocardiogram, a GPS receiver and a physical button that drivers press when they experience a stressful event. A questionnaire and face-to-face interview with the drivers at the end of each shift verified every recorded incident and provided details of the types of stress encountered.
The study, carried out by scientists from Leeds Beckett University and the University of Porto, offers useful insights for both occupational health professionals and city planners. As well as providing a detailed and accurate picture of the daily stresses encountered by this group of workers, it also enabled the creation of a city-wide ‘stress map’, highlighting the areas on the road network that caused the most problems for bus drivers .
“Most occupational health surveys ask workers to remember the stressors they encounter after the event, which results in unreliable and incomplete data,” says lead researcher in the area of Psychology, Dr Mariana Kaiseler, from Leeds Beckett University. “Our system identified not only a variety of specific stressors that drivers experience in their daily work but also allowed an understanding of the potential impact of these stressors to the driver´s cardiovascular health. Finally, this robust system is able to locate stressors in the city, which facilitates the design of efficient stress reduction interventions.”
The electrocardiogram was embedded into a t-shirt worn beneath the drivers’ uniforms and the system was programmed to pick up the most accurate physiological signals to detect stress. In addition, the drivers had the option to also push the stress button when experiencing stress. As all data was linked to GPS positioning, at the end of a shift drivers were shown exactly where and when on their route the signals had been picked up – even shown the place on Google street view – and were asked to describe the situation experienced. This ensured accurate recall of stressors as only real incidents of stress determined by the driver were logged in the final data.
Thirty-six drivers took part in the study, involving a total of 145 working hours and more than 2,300km of driving. The most frequent cause of stress was the behaviour of other drivers and pedestrians, accounting for 30 of the 86 incidents recorded. Difficulties caused by urban planning, such as narrow roads or tight corners, accounted for 19 incidents, with traffic congestion accounting for 16. Fourteen incidents of stress related to social interactions with passengers or people known to the drivers, with the remaining seven due to unexpected events such as mechanical failures.
The system devised for the study could be adapted for any occupation that keeps people on the move and provides a valuable contribution to the study of stress in occupational health.
The full findings of the study, conducted as part of the European Union funded Future Cities programme, are published in Transactions on Intelligent Transportation Systems.