By Michelle Clark
Truck driver health and wellness programs may be one way to combat the industry’s shortfall of drivers.
In recent years, driver health has become one of the trucking industry’s top ten issues, and some 20 percent of drivers who quit this kind of job cite health problems as a factor.1
With the industry facing a shortage of some 60,000 drivers this year alone, 56 percent of employers and 70 percent of drivers believe healthier eating and access to exercise would help offset the health problems experienced as a function of this sedentary occupation. It could ultimately make the industry a more attractive employment option.
The health conditions within the trucking industry’s workforce aren’t unique. But the propensity for them is much higher than for other sectors, especially among long-distance drivers (though short-haulers aren’t exempt). Among the most common issues:
- Tobacco use and obesity are widespread.
- Stress and associated mental health problems are common – an issue compounded by lack of sleep and extended isolation, which create an environment ripe for depression.
- Traveling too long without taking bathroom breaks can strain the bladder and kidneys, and in extreme cases, combined with long-term exposure to diesel fumes, can also lead to kidney cancer.
- Musculoskeletal issues often arise from loading and unloading and prolonged sitting while on the road.
- Opioids are the drug of choice for chronic musculoskeletal pain, and can lead to addiction.
- Another concern is amphetamine use to help truckers stay alert for long hauls to meet ever-increasing delivery schedule demands.
For five consecutive years the trucking industry employers ranked driver health and wellness as one of their top ten concerns. But recognizing the issue is only half the battle in combating driver burnout. The most effective solutions are programs centred on truck driver health with an eye on the physical exams required annually for most Commercial Drivers License (CDL) certification renewals. A comprehensive program might include:
- Annual biometric screenings.
- Real-time health coaching over the phone while drivers are on the road, available anytime, anyplace.
- A physical fitness kit drivers can use to increase exercise and movement while on their travels.
- The ability to connect with other drivers to exchange information on issues like food choices at different truck stops and the best places to pull over to get in an exercise break.
- Directions to kiosks in major chains like Shoppers where drivers can do a health check-in during their travels.
Health and wellness programs that address the industry’s particular pain points – and that show employers care – will not only help keep drivers on the right path today, but also establish the kind of environment that will attract new drivers tomorrow. Employers can help their drivers and themselves by putting in place truck driver health and wellness programs that encourage better habits and practices in a way that reflects the unique challenges of people in this mobile occupation.
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1 American Transportation Institute, http://atri-online.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/ATRI-Top-Industry-Issues-2017.pdf