Truck driving is known as a dangerous job, but that’s not just due to the risk of traffic accidents. The lifestyle has a reputation for being unhealthy, and putting drivers at risk of developing long-term health problems. In order to look after their workforce, employers need to pay more attention to employee wellbeing.
This is no small matter. Truck driving was one of the most dangerous jobs in the US last year, and health - both physical and mental - play a large part in that. Here are three ways employers can look after their truck drivers to ensure they don’t fall victim to the effects of ill health.
1. Give them time to sleep
Fatigue is no laughing matter when it comes to road safety. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as many as 6,000 fatal crashes each year in the US can be attributed to tired drivers. Sleep deprivation can easily lead to loss of concentration, lack of alertness and impaired memory, all of which affect driving ability. Microsleeps - where a person falls completely asleep for a few seconds - are also a dangerous possibility.
Regulations in most countries limit how much truck drivers are allowed to work without breaks, and how long must be left before they’re allowed on the roads again. However, research suggests that long-term sleep deprivation isn’t something that can be easily caught up on, meaning drivers must be scheduled for shifts that allow them a regular sleep schedule wherever possible.
If this isn’t possible, drivers should be aware that caffeine can help; one study found that it can reduce the chance of a crash amongst long-distance truck drivers by 63%. However, this is not a long-term solution, and should not be relied on.
2. Encourage a healthy diet
A study of truck drivers in Europe found they were more likely to eat canned foods while working and less likely to eat meat, milk and dairy products, fresh vegetables, legumes, and fish. This is despite 94% of trucks containing cooler boxes or refrigerators. All of this suggests that diet is an issue for drivers.
Obesity is twice as prevalent in US truck drivers as it is in the general population, and is associated with a variety of long-term health problems. While exercise is a good option to encourage in order to avoid this, it’s hard to fit it in while driving long-haul trucks. Diet is a better option to focus on, perhaps by providing healthy snacks to discourage junk food.
3. Protect mental health
While physical health is important, the lonely lifestyle of a trucker can easily take its toll on mental health as well. Truck drivers are at almost twice the risk of developing depression as the general population, and suicide rates are higher than average. Employers must take action to help vulnerable drivers before mental health problems develop.
Social media can be a great help, and Facebook pages like “Truckers For Truckers (Fight Against Depression And Suicide)” have been started to provide drivers with a place to talk to like-minded people and share solutions. Mona Shattell, Associate Dean for Faculty Development at Johns Hopkins’ School of Nursing, recommends trucking companies set up wellness programs and focus on supporting drivers while they are on the road.