Chronic Disease: The Trucking Industry’s Silent Killer

By Alana Smart / August 30, 2022 / Blog ,

Truck driving with blurred trees in the background

Chronic Disease: The Trucking Industry’s Silent Killer

The nation depends heavily on trucker drivers to safely to deliver the goods they are accustomed to using daily. In order to deliver those goods safely and quickly, truck drivers spend long hours on the road, often times at all hours of the day and night. Truck driving regularly ranks high on the list of most dangerous occupations in the United States. Truck driving fatalities have been steadily climbing since 2015, and by 2019 they peaked at 843. While truck drivers must contend with long hours, inclement weather, and transportation accidents; they are also at a high risk for chronic disease.

Chronic diseases are the leading causes of death and disability in America, and they are also a leading driver of health care costs. Long-haul truck drivers are more at risk for these illnesses due to the nature of their jobs. Sitting for extended periods of time, and long, irregular hours coupled with a lack of available healthy foods can create barriers to some healthy behaviors which typically ward off chronic illness. Chronic illness are conditions that last longer than a year or more.

According to the CDC, six in ten adults in the U.S. live with a chronic disease and four in ten adults have two or more. Many chronic diseases are caused by tobacco use, poor nutrition, lack of physical activity, and excessive alcohol use. When it comes to truckers in particular, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reports that they are more susceptible to experiencing multiple chronic conditions. Truck drivers are twice as likely to be obese when compared to other workers. Also, trucker drivers were twice as likely to smoke compared to other workers; with female truck drivers being three times more likely to be smoker than other female workers. Many trucker drivers report that smoking helps them combat fatigue. Approximately 26% of truck drivers reported having hypertension and 14% reported being diagnosed with diabetes.

Drivers also face a physically demanding job that come with a lot of stress. Truck drivers must adhere to a set delivery schedule, which may be impacted by long wait times at loading facilities, and often they struggle to find safe and available parking.

According to a 2016 survey conducted by background-check company HireRight, some of the top reasons truck drivers are leaving the industry is due to health-related considerations and the desire to leave long hauls behind to have more time at home.

Common health conditions affecting drivers:

  • Stress
  • Fatigue
  • Obesity
  • Sleep Apnea
  • Hypertension
  • Heart Disease
  • Diabetes

Healthy for the long haul

According to HireRight, motor carriers need to take a closer look at wellness programs and the positive effects they can have on boosting driver health.

“Driving is a physically demanding profession and getting proper rest, eating right and maintaining an exercise routine is a challenge due to the nature of the job,” said Steven Spencer, manager director of transportation, HireRight. “The workforce is aging and attracting younger drivers remains a challenge due to the trucking lifestyle. The transportation industry is realizing that wellness programs and other methods of improving the quality of life for drivers, while relatively new to motor carriers, are effective ways to attract and retain drivers and boost their overall health, well-being and retention.”

Employer driving wellness programs can be implemented in various ways. Employers can offer:

  • Safety and accident training, which can discuss issues such as fatigue
  • Smoking cessation programs
  • Weight-loss programs or gym memberships
  • Immunization programs

The average cost for an accident can be around $300,000 and for a fatal crash it can be close to $7 million. Having sick or accident-prone drivers is a big risk for employers. Focusing on promoting lifestyle changes is a cost-effective investment to address these risks, provide preventative care, and retain and attract drivers.

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