Bringing driver wellness to the forefront

by Daniela Piteo

MONCTON, N.B.–In an American study released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, trucking is ranked as one of the most high-risk occupations – and the perils go beyond highway collisions. It’s also about an unhealthy lifestyle.

Incidents of diabetes, hypertension, obesity and coronary disease are on the rise, prompting the industry to establish programs that promote health and wellness.

At Armour Transport Systems (ATS), safe equipment, good working relationships between management and staff and employee recognition have been a priority over the company’s six decade tenure, but according to Alisha Armour, marketing and wellness coordinator, it was time to implement a Heath and Wellness program for all staff.

“A Wellness Committee was established with participation by our executive and management team,” Armour said. “Meetings were held at all of our terminal locations throughout Atlantic Canada introducing our elements of wellness, encouraging people to participate in our programs and asking for volunteers to become Wellness representatives at their terminal or department.  This laid the early foundation of our Shift Gears, Live Well’ wellness program.”

At Armour Transport, insurance costs were on the rise, which impacted both the finances of the company and the employee.

“In trying to resolve this situation, our company wanted to not only show people that we cared about the bottom line, but that we cared about every employee’s life and this meant their health and well-being,” said Armour. “With healthier employees there would be reduced absenteeism and sickness, safer workers, better outlooks and attitudes, healthier and happier families.”

ATS implemented a wellness program eight years ago and tailored it to reflect the guiding principles long espoused by the company – valuing people, safety, service, stability and family.

“We want to enhance everyone’s quality of life, we encourage and support an environment of Wellness through opportunities that will promote healthy lifestyles in a healthy workplace,” Armour said.

In 2007, ATS and Medavie Blue Cross worked together after Medavie conducted a company wide study that revealed the top risk factors for employees included: weight control, physical inactivity, smoking, stress and coping ability.

Wellness initiatives were based on Medavie’s findings.

“Our Healthy Meal Plan was developed as a useful tool to provide our people with healthy eating tips,” said Armour. “It was created in partnership with a registered dietician along with input from one of our wellness reps, a company driver.”

Health Coaching and Nutrition Support services and Eating Healthy Education and Awareness were also a part of the program.

“Our company made sure healthy meal choices at company sponsored meetings were available, as well as healthy vending machine choices,” Armour said.

Wellness programs were not designed just to change and improve the eating habits of a workforce, but to also encourage more physical activity and Armour added the Annual Spring Activity Program to their initiative.

“We call the annual initiative ‘Let’s Get Moving’ and it encourages all our employees and their families to get physically active,” said Armour.

The company has also partnered with GoodLife Fitness, which offers a preferred annual rate to Armour employees and their spouses and children.

“We also offer complementary clinical assessments and seasonal flu shots to our employees and their spouses and children on an annual basis,” said Armour. “This 15-minute appointment was offered during work hours and allowed for time to ask the nurse specific health questions and to receive health coaching.”

The company also recognizes the importance of keeping the mind healthy, as well as the body and to that end, Armour Transport works to keep employees upbeat by potlucks, themed lunches, Halloween contests and scavenger hunts for the employees’ children.

“At Armour Transportation Systems we recognize the hard work and dedication of our employees at numerous events held throughout the year including awards banquets, family breakfasts, staff appreciation days, summer barbecues, dances and a scholarship program, just to name a few,” Armour said.  “These special events demonstrate our commitment to our people and family, which are two of our company’s guiding principles.”

Two other vital initiatives that have been worked into the program involve smoking cessation and a long-haul driver committee.

“Our “Team Crush” smoking cessation program is open and available to all Armour Transportation Systems employees and their spouses.  The program covers 50% of the cost of quit smoking aids, including nicotine replacement gum and patches,” Armour said.  “Accommodations have also been made to include hypnosis therapy.” 

“We also promote National Non-smoking week and a smoker’s Help Line,” Armour said.

In 2012, Armour Transportation Systems created a long haul driver committee to address topics related to driver recruiting and retention. 

“The purpose of the committee is to facilitate an open discussion between our management team and our drivers to address issues and topics that are of primary concern to our driver population,” said Armour. “Topics such as scheduled runs, work-life balance, equipment and wellness-related issues are covered.”

At ATS, a wide spectrum of health-related issues is examined and addressed, because, according to Armour, health matters.

“We have made a very conscious effort with all of our initiatives to target the home, by making our programs open and available not only to our employees, but also their spouse,” Armour said.  “We have also tried to create initiatives that are appealing and interesting to our people.”

ATS has a network of over 60 representatives that help spread the wellness message.

“Our wellness initiatives are also shared through various communication methods,” Armour said. “We send satellite messages to the drivers, post cards at dispatch and driver’s rooms, pay-stub attachments, email notifications, driver and dock worker meetings.”

The message that Armour has sent out has been received and it is beginning to show in their numbers.

Each year since the initiative was implemented, participation continues to increase, and for the seventh year running, there has been no increase in insurance premiums, Armour said.

“A substantial surplus (in insurance premiums) has been achieved and it is with pleasure that we returned this money to our group insurance participants in the form of a premium holiday in 2013,” said Armour. “It’s just one way we recognize our employees commitment to the program.”

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