Heavy Truck Driver Toll from Job-Related Injuries

December 05, 2016 by Michelle Rafter, @MichelleRafter

A Hopkinsville, Kentucky truck driver landed in the hospital after being struck by an unidentified object that flew through the driver’s side window of his 2008 Peterbilt.

In central Indiana, a driver had to be helicoptered to an Indianapolis hospital after his legs were crushed by large metal poles that fell off the flatbed truck he was unloading.

A 27-year-old trucker driving on a highway in west central Kansas crashed his semi trying to avoid hitting a cow, sending him to a local hospital for evaluation.

Incidents such as these – a sample of injury accidents involving truck drivers over the past 90 days – help explain why heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers take more time off work for job-related injuries than almost any other job in the country, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report.

Truck drivers miss a median 22 days annually for work-related non-fatal injuries and illnesses, more than any other job except for plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters, according to the BLS’ annual tally. The federal agency’s report covers statistics for 2015, the latest available. It does not include data on workplace violence or fatalities, which are covered in separate report due in December.

In addition to taking more time off when they’re injured or ill, drivers get hurt or sick at work more often than many other professions. Truck drivers’ annual incident rate for non-fatal illnesses and injuries is 307.5 per 10,000 people. That means for every 10,000 truck drivers on the road in 2015, 307.5 had a non-fatal injury or illness. By comparison, the average annual incident rate for non-fatal illnesses and injuries for all U.S. workers is 104 per 10,000.

Although substantially higher than the national average, heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers’ job-related injuries dropped in 2015 from 2014, when incidents were 365.5 per 10,000. However, lost work days increased from 2014, when injured truckers were off work a median 20 days.

Sprains, strains and tears are by far heavy and tractor-trailer truck driver’s most common workplace mishaps, accounting for 132.9 incidents per 10,000, or approximately 43 percent of all injuries and illnesses, according to BLS.

The physical nature of the job and time away from home can contribute to higher than average time off work, said Sean McNally, vice president of public affairs for the American Trucking Association. “The average age of a truck driver is 49, while the average age of the entire workforce is 42, so an older labor pool can lead to the need for more days off,” he said.

Fleets are starting driver health and wellness programs to improve drivers’ health and reduce injuries, which McNally said could help explain drops in days missed and incident rates from 2014 to 2015.

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In 2015, light truck or delivery service drivers were injured more often than semi drivers but took fewer days off as a result. During the year, light and delivery truck drivers had an incident rate of 314 per 10,000, but lost a median 14 work days due to injuries, according to the BLS.

Under an Occupational Health and Safety Administration regulation that took effect in August, both general and specialized freight trucking companies with 20 or more employees must electronically submit workplace injury and illness reports to the agency, which will begin publishing the data on its website in 2017. The rule, passed in May, affects companies with 250 or more employees, as well as companies in certain high-risk industries such as trucking with 20 or more workers.

Related: Truck Manufacturers and Regulators Work to Improve Safety

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