Though many over-the-road drivers may enjoy their jobs, education about possible health problems that are common for those in the industry is increasingly important. Health problems can all too frequently mean that a driver can no longer certify for a CDL, adding to the nation’s driver shortage. In fact, a recent study completed by the American Trucking Association found that by the end of 2017, the driver shortage could reach 50,000.
Most Common Health Problems
In order to keep qualified and competent drivers on the road, companies must find ways of alerting, educating and incentivizing their drivers to avoid some of the biggest common health problems. These include:
- Exhaustion – Whether the exhaustion is due to an ever-changing sleep schedule, or to the fact that the time spent behind the wheel can be mind-numbing, many drivers report a feeling of exhaustion a majority of the time. This exhaustion, if not handled correctly, can lead to accidents on the highways. Companies that acknowledge driver exhaustion and provide education, permission for drivers to make needed stops, and incentives for exercise may find that drivers begin to report less exhaustion once beneficial changes become habit.
- Work-Related Injuries – While some might scoff at the thought of getting a workplace injury while sitting behind the wheel of a semi, drivers experience such health problems all too frequently. Musculoskeletal disorders are often the most common type of injury, as drivers are often tasked to load or unload some or all of the freight in a trailer. Injury of the back and neck are most common. Working with drivers to educate them about the necessity of a proper stretch or warm-up period before lifting may help to alleviate some of these injuries.
Repetitive motion injuries are often experienced in the trucking industry as well, especially in the wrist, hand and knee. This is most likely due to the need for drivers to constantly shift gears (wrist and knee) and keep a frim grip on the steering wheel (hand.) Encouraging drivers to engage in exercises for each of these areas daily may be the answer to this type of injury.
- Risks of Sitting – A recent study conducted by Harvard University confirmed, once again, that sitting for long periods of time puts people at a heightened risk of death from all causes. Though the exact connection between sitting and poor health was not pinpointed, the chances of early death were found to be much higher, documenting increased rates of death from type 2 diabetes, cancer, and even an increased risk of dementia. This study also found that even people who exercised for up to an hour a day continued to be at risk if they also spent prolonged hours sitting each day.
- Obesity – It should come as no surprise that the first occupation on the list of highest obesity rates is that of a truck driver. After all, who would not gain weight and keep it on if each day consisted of up to 11 hours of sitting and the easiest meals were the unhealthy offerings of fast food chains or truck stops. Companies that provide drivers with a small fridge and a way to heat healthier options are on the road to helping each driver be more healthy. Incentivizing an exercise program can also give drivers a reason to take regular exercise breaks.
- Sleep Apnea – A high body mass index (BMI), regularly found in long-haul drivers, can also lead to a disorder called sleep apnea. Basically, a driver never gets good sleep because they stop breathing through the night as their upper respiratory system constricts and blocks air flow. Many times, drivers do not even realize that they are waking repeatedly during the night, they only know that they rarely wake feeling refreshed. Heavy snoring is one sign that a driver may be suffering from this health concern. Companies that offer free testing for sleep apnea, as well as follow up care are sure to find that drivers perform much better and are of better health with the properly prescribed breathing machine.
- Stimulant Dependence – Sleepy truckers frequently find it simple to grab a stimulant, whether in pill form, in a soda, or an enhanced power bar. The problem comes in the fact that, taken regularly, caffeine builds a dependency in users. Truckers typically need more to stay alert and find themselves with an excruciating headache when they go without caffeine. A better suggestion is to engage in healthy ways of staying alert such as stretching, drinking cold water, and eating apples or baby carrots. By doing this, drivers can grab something caffeinated on occasion without fear of becoming dependent.
The Healthy Driver
When trucking companies and their drivers agree on the fact that driver health is of utmost importance, changes can be encouraged which will benefit all involved. Ongoing education and incentive programs can not only have a positive effect on health, but also on mental health. And a healthy driver is one who can remain an asset long into the future.