Most goods in the U.S. are delivered by truck. Trucking companies, businesses that deliver their own product and their customers rely on well-functioning vehicles and drivers for the success of their operations.
Too often, though, driving a truck is not conducive to good health. That can spell trouble for the drivers and for the profitability of their employers.
There are a number of factors about the truck-driving occupation that contribute to poor physical health, including:
- Drivers are hired to sit all day behind the wheel, with limited opportunities for exercise.
- They eat at truck stops and other restaurants where they can get meals quickly, contributing to poor diets.
- Their work schedules are not consistent, interfering with sleep patterns.
- The job is stressful. They have to contend with the annoyances and hazards of the road all day long, including traffic delays, dangerous drivers, and poor weather. On top of that, they are under pressure to reach their destinations on time. This gives them incentives to skip on sleep and ingest stimulants to help them stay awake.
Not surprisingly, studies have found that:
- The obesity rate for truck drivers is double that of the general population.
- Their smoking rate is almost triple that of the general population.
- 88% of truck drivers report having hypertension, smoking or obesity, and 9% reported having all three, quadruple the general population’s rate.
- Truck drivers’ life expectancy is 16 years less than the national average.
- Unhealthy drivers do not perform their jobs as well as healthy ones do.
- Among private sector employees, truck drivers have the highest number of illnesses and injuries that cause them to miss work.
A 2017 study found that drivers with three or more serious health conditions like the ones mentioned above are two to four times more likely to have an accident than are those with only one.
One common affliction for many drivers is sleep apnea. Drivers who have untreated sleep apnea are five times more likely to have a preventable accident than are those who treat it.
What you can do
What can you as an employer do to maintain a healthy driving force? Plenty.
- During the pre-employment screening process, evaluate candidates’ fitness levels through physical examinations and a review of their driving histories.
- Review employer safety policies and driver wellness and fitness requirements during new employee orientation.
- Implement injury prevention programs.
- Offer free or discounted memberships at gyms with locations around the country.
- Encourage drivers to take quick exercise breaks during trips.
- Encourage healthy eating both at home and on the road.
- Monitor drivers’ performance through data provided by telematics devices installed in trucks, review of accident reports, and in-person observation of drivers.
If a truck driver suffers a heart attack or dozes off while hauling a load weighing tens of thousands of pounds, the results can be catastrophic. In addition to the lives lost or forever changed, the cost to the employer could be millions of dollars in jury awards.
Making driver wellness a priority is the right thing to do, but it also makes business sense for employers.