The health crisis within the trucking industry is growing. Why should fleet managers care, and what can they do about it?
In 2017, the trucking industry moved a massive 10.77 billion tons of freight: over 70% of all US domestic tonnage. But while the backbone of American consumerism appears healthy, it looks like most truck drivers are not.
According to a 2018 report, Critical Issues in the Trucking Industry, "driver health and wellness" is one of the top ten biggest issues affecting the trucking industry. Truck drivers have higher rates of heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and obesity when compared with other US workers. In fact, around one out of five drivers say they left their job because of health problems.
Why is trucker health deteriorating?
Lack of exercise: according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), within a 14-hour window, truck drivers may be sitting down, driving, for up to 11 hours. This, understandably, makes exercise very difficult to fit into their days.
Lack of nutrition: no surprise to anyone who's driven across the US, healthy food can be increasingly difficult to find on the road. The traditional "mom-and-pop" truck stops, serving up home-cooked, hearty and well-balanced meals, have turned into fast food chains over recent years. Which has led speed and convenience being prioritized over health. Some drivers even eat while driving in order to save time and maximize their 11 hours of drive time. This makes sense in the short-term, but takes a toll on their health in the long run.
Lack of sleep: another issue impacting the quality of life and mental wellness of long-haul truckers is fatigue. Studies show that in some cases, driving fatigued is comparable to drunk driving as it increases the risk of human error. Driving fatigued not only puts the life of the driver at risk but the lives of the other drivers on the road, too. Furthermore, lack of sleep can also negatively affect cholesterol levels, further perpetuating overall health problems.
Because of these factors and others, most long-haul truck drivers are now classified as obese. In fact, 61% of drivers reportedly have two or more of the following: hypertension, obesity, high cholesterol, no physical activity, a smoking dependency, and/or six or fewer hours of sleep per 24-hour period.
Clearly, this is not an ideal situation for fleet owners. As well as the human issue of not wanting to be responsible for people's health problems, this issue is leading to lost money, lost time, and a recruitment problem.
What can fleet owners do about it?
The good news is that truck drivers, fleet owners and other businesses are facing up to the problem and making changes. Here's how you, too, can take positive steps to improve the physical and mental health of drivers within your fleet:
Education: fleet owners and managers can offer information about diet and exercise to new and veteran employees, as well as set team health goals and company-wide incentives. Technology such as activity trackers, heart-rate trackers and pedometers are popular, low-cost ways to gamify fitness and track progress. Memberships and access to streaming services is another great way to promote health and wellness. Aside from hours of entertainment, most streaming services offer fitness videos with a wide range of categories and ability levels and most routines can be conducted virtually anywhere with little equipment.
Truck stops: some are getting in on the movement, by offering healthy food and drink options, indoor and outdoor exercise facilities or equipment, walking trails, dog parks and more. With HERE turn-by-turn navigation, drivers can even be guided seamlessly to the nearest truck stop for food, rest or a little exercise.
Exercise: it’s a known fact that physical activity can positively affect mental health and wellbeing, and fleet owners can help to facilitate this. By offering access to subscription services for quality radio, podcasts and eBooks, fleet owners can provide entertaining mental stimulation on a daily basis.
Routing: solutions powered by HERE Technologies location intelligence can help optimize truck routing and enhance overall driver experience. Routes based on truck-specific attributes such as maximum height and weight clearance, weather, and real-time and historic traffic data can all play into planning the safest, least stressful route possible.
Some fleet owners even offer free or discounted tuition for drivers to enroll in college night classes.
Empathy: showing you are respectful and cognizant of your team having to spend long stretches away from family and friends, is another way to show drivers their happiness and wellbeing is valued.
Flexibility: as for fatigue, according to the 2018 report Critical Issues in the Trucking Industry, it is argued that the strongest strategy to improve sleep and vital downtime within the industry is by calling for flexibility with the sleeper berth provision. Currently the provision is an 8/2 split, which according to the FMCSA means: “drivers using a sleeper berth must take at least eight hours in the sleeper berth, and may split the sleeper berth time into two periods provided neither is less than two hours.” With more flexibility, drivers can opt to rest when they're tired, and better craft their driving schedules to avoid time-consuming and frustrating congestion.
In all, fleet owners and managers are, of course responsible for the health of their vehicles, but by extending the focus to the drivers, too, you'll find you have a much healthier, happier (and less costly) fleet.
Fleet managers: is your drivers' health a priority for your business? If so, what are you doing to improve/maintain their wellbeing?