Truck drivers are much more likely than workers in other industries to be unhealthy and fatigued. There are an estimated 250,000 crashes involving truck drivers each year and a number of trucking incidents are caused or exacerbated by the health of truck operators. Identifying and addressing health factors that potentially increase the risk of trucking crashes risk could help in lower this number.
According to recent research into truck drivers’ health, high pulse pressure and fatigue are highly associated with crash risk. There are many aspects of the job that may contribute to these conditions, including stress, long hours, heavy lifting, and lack of sleep and exercise.
Some of these factors can be addressed and their impact on safety diminished with the right attitude and commitment from the employers and the employees.
There’s no magic bullet that will completely eliminate these issues. But several solutions can mitigate some of these issues and hopefully result in healthier, safer truck drivers.
Healthy eating and exercise for truck drivers
The research mentioned above also found that 62% of participants were obese. This is almost double the 35% obesity rate for the general adult population. And although an employee’s health is a private matter, it does have an impact on their safety, the safety of others and their long-term career. And if they are involved in a crash or need to take time off or quit due to weight-related health issues, then the employer is obviously affected.
It can be difficult for companies to encourage a healthier diet and exercise among truck drivers. In large part, this is because the job itself makes healthier lifestyles challenging. Healthy eating and exercise can feel impossible when spending a great deal of time on the road. But there are transport companies that see the importance of their drivers’ health and promote ways to stay fit and healthy while driving.
Short, high-intensity workouts at truck stops can be more than enough to improve drivers’ health. Only fifteen minutes of such workouts can make a significant difference in helping drivers to stay fit or lose weight.
Healthy food choices also matter on the road. Long-haul drivers can stock up on healthy snacks and even prepare whole meals in advance of hitting the road. If they prefer to eat out, they can also research healthy dining options along the way and plan their stops accordingly.
EHS professionals should present eating and exercise options to the entire workforce. Workers might not be aware of the difference small changes can make, or may simply be stuck in an unhealthy pattern and need a little help to escape it. Regardless, providing information and encouragement can go a long way to keeping truckers healthier.
How long-haul drivers are affected by fatigue
When they start to feel sleepy, most truckers think that they’re “just tired” or that they can drive through fatigue. But research is clear on this—fatigue is a dangerous impairment that slows down drivers’ reaction times, affects their concentration and makes them much more likely to make a mistake that can cost a life.
Fatigue is not only deadly but also very expensive. Over a seven-year period, on a 290-mile stretch of a highway in Oregon, at-fault truck crashes resulted in approximately $75 million of “crash harm”. And because fatigue is one of the major causes of vehicle crashes, this serious problem demands more attention from employers and employees alike.
To promote safe driving, companies should try to influence their employees’ perception of fatigue. Providing classes or organizing toolbox talks on the subject is the first step to helping drivers understand how deadly fatigue can be. These should come with realistic options for handling fatigue and with a schedule that allows for implementing healthy changes. Simply telling drivers about the dangers of fatigue but still arranging schedules that don’t allow for appropriate rest is counterproductive and dishonest.
There’s tons of research on fatigue, but there are a few issues that every trucker must know about. For a good primer on the most salient details—and an outline on how to deal with fatigue among your drivers (and the rest of your workforce) this free fatigue webinar is highly recommended for every safety professional.
Investing in safety
Every driver’s performance is influenced not only by their skills but also by their level of fatigue, how distracted they are, and their overall health. Long-haul drivers’ health is an issue that’s plagued the industry for years. Fortunately, advice is available for safety folks who want to help improve truck operators’ health and well-being. Every EHS professional in the trucking industry should make an effort to bring this advice to their workforce.
Employers should help drivers be as healthy and safe as possible. Offering information and support on the subject is a great start but that alone won’t be enough. Think about how hard it is for anyone to eat healthy and get enough sleep and exercise, and compound that with the additional challenges professional drivers face. You need to take it one step further by providing effective training on fatigue and a structured environment for workers to build health and safety skills and habits. In the long run, preventative measures will be cheaper than dealing with the aftermath of fatigue or physical health issues.