Health issues are chasing truck drivers out of the industry.
A survey by employee background-check firm HireRight found that truck drivers in the U.S. are quitting because of health-related factors. It’s one of the top reasons — along with low pay and the desire to spend more time at home — for leaving the industry.
“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, managing director of transportation at HireRight.
About 88 percent of long-haul drivers suffer from one or more health issues such as hypertension, smoking and obesity. All put them at risk for chronic diseases, according to a 2014 report by Karl Sieber, a researcher at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in Cincinnati.
The study found that 51 percent of drivers smoke compared with 19 percent of all U.S. workers.
Commercial drivers also face more stress on a daily basis than the average worker, Rebecca M. Brewster, the president of the American Transportation Research Institute, told Trucks.com.
“Things like sitting stuck in traffic while trying to make a delivery schedule, long waits at customer facilities and the often daily challenge to find safe, available parking all add up to increased stress for drivers,” she said.
Obesity is another concern because it’s associated with chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease and sleep apnea, Sieber said.
The frequency of obesity among long-haul drivers is nearly twice that of the general U.S. working population, Sieber said.
Sitting for extended periods of time combined with few options for healthy eating can make it difficult for truckers to maintain a healthy weight.
Fatigue is also seen as affecting drivers’ health and safety.
“One thing that is of increasing interest is fatigue and how long [drivers] sleep,” Sieber said. “Fatigue has multiple dimensions, but what people have focused in on is things like drowsy driving, swerving [and] risky driving practices.”
Fatigue is a risk factor for chronic diseases, infections, high blood pressure and diabetes in drivers. It can also increase appetite, overeating and obesity.
Sieber’s study found that 27 percent of long-haul drivers averaged six hours of sleep or less per 24-hour period.
Motor carriers need to take a closer look at wellness programs and the positive effects they can have on boosting driver health, according to HireRight.
Such programs can educate drivers to make better food choices when on the road, encourage them to get 30 minutes of exercise when parked at a rest area or truck stop, and provide constructive ways to deal with stress, Brewster said.
Carriers can get started with a driver wellness program by purchasing a blood-pressure monitor for the driver lounge or by providing truckers with resistance bands to work out with in their trucks, Brewster said. These options are easy and relatively inexpensive.
Some trucking companies also offer more extensive programs, according to HireRight.
About 35 percent of transportation industry respondents participating in the HireRight survey said they provide safety and accident prevention programs, 21 percent offer free immunization/flu shots, and 18 percent offer smoking cessation programs.
Others offer weight-loss programs and healthcare memberships with unlimited clinic visits, an important service considering that 38 percent of long-haul drivers are not covered by health insurance or a healthcare plan, according to the NIOSH.
“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,” Spencer said.
The industry needs to keep its drivers healthy since the occupation’s challenging lifestyle has helped lead to a shortage of people willing to go into long-haul trucking, he said.