OHSU and PSU scientists win new grant to study bus operator health

Thank you labor and management partners! Dr. Ryan Olson and collaborators at OHSU and PSU were recently awarded a $3.5 million grant to study the health, safety, and well-being of new bus operators.

“Public transportation is an important community service and something that anyone who rides the bus can appreciate” said Dr. Olson. “However, being a new bus driver – or a newcomer in any industry – can be stressful, and long hours spent sitting and other factors can elevate risks for chronic health conditions in professional drivers. This project will enable us to study working conditions for new drivers and work with employers and union partners to help them succeed.”

The project will take place over five years with funding support from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Transit authorities and unions throughout the pacific northwest and western states supported the grant proposal. This included “hometown support” from Trimet and the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 757. Both Trimet and the ATU 757 were instrumental in helping the research team understand the transit industry and gather preliminary data on bus operator safety, health, and well-being.

The ATU Local 757 worked with the research team from start to finish during proposal development to be sure they understood the day-day health and safety challenges of bus operators. The ATU also helped the team obtain letters of support from transit authorities throughout Oregon and distribute a health survey to union members. An executive board member from the union even helped research staff stuff survey envelopes! Results of the survey were key for helping researchers respond to grant reviewers critiques.

Trimet & OHSU: Daniel Wentz, Alisa Bruno, Sara Wild, Jadie Karratti-Abordo, Mary Murphy, Ryan Olson, and Harry Saporta

Harry Saporta, Trimet’s Executive Director of Safety and Security, has also supported the project for several years. This included facilitating a range of efforts, including sharing safety and operational statistics and organizing meetings with Trimet’s human resources and training departments. Mr. Saporta has also guest lectured and arranged field experiences for Dr. Olson’s students in the PSU Department of Psychology and the OHSU-PSU School of Public Health.

The new project continues Dr. Olson’s line of research funded by NHLBI on commercial driver safety, health, and well-being. The original project funded by NHLBI was conducted between 2011-2017, and evaluated a weight loss and health promotion program tailored for commercial truck drivers (SHIFT: Safety & Health Involvement For Truck drivers). The SHIFT program is one of two weight loss programs for truck drivers globally to be demonstrated effective with a randomized controlled design.

In the new project, titled “SHIFT Onboard” (Safety & Health Impact for Transit operators during Onboarding), efforts will focus on understanding how working conditions impact operators’ safety, health, and well-being. Researchers will also adapt the SHIFT program and integrate it with established transit training programs for new bus operators in order to prevent early onset of health problems – such as weight gain – while also supporting operators’ safety, well-being, and success during their first years on the job.

SHIFT Onboard research team: From left to right, Kent Anger, Talya Bauer, Ryan Olson, Peter Graven, Kesley Parker, Todd Bodner, Brad Wipfli, Layla Mansfield.

Dr. Olson’s Co-Investigators on the new project include Drs. Kent Anger and Peter Graven at OHSU, and Drs. Talya Bauer, Todd Bodner, and Brad Wipfli from PSU. Dr. Layla Mansfield from the Olson lab will Manage the Project and supervise field research staff. Dr. Kelsey Parker, also from the Olson lab, will also contribute. Dr. Diane Elliot, from the OHSU Division of Health Promotion and Sports Medicine, will serve as the supervising physician for bus operator health screenings during the study. Dr. James Strathman, PSU Emeritus Professor from the Center for Urban Studies, will provide consultation to the team regarding the measurement of operator performance and safety.

Learn more by watching KATU’s video and reading the press release.