Taking your health to heart

by James Menzies

TORONTO, Ont. – An increasing number of fleets are introducing driver health programs in an attempt to create a healthier workforce and reduce soaring health-related expenses.

A recent study in the US found that overweight workers have 13 times more lost workdays due to work-related injuries than their slimmer co-workers. Their medical claims are also seven times higher than those of fit co-workers. That translates into higher workers’ compensation costs for employers with overweight workers, yet treating those employees any differently can lead to discrimination complaints.

So what’s a fleet to do?

More carriers are finding that by helping their employees achieve a healthy lifestyle, they are reducing their workers’ compensation claims costs while also improving morale and creating an overall healthier work environment.

Celadon Trucking Services is one such company. It introduced its Highway 2 Health program last year which offered up the services of a nurse practitioner, a registered nurse, a medical assistant and a health promotions specialist. Drivers were offered the opportunity to undergo a thorough health screening measuring blood pressure, body mass, glucose and lipid profiles. The on-site medical team was available to educate drivers on how to improve their overall health.

“The primary purpose behind the program was to make our workforce healthier, to help our employees achieve a better state of health and hopefully the result of that is a decrease in health premiums in face of escalating costs associated with that right now,” explained Craig Koven, communications manager with Celadon. “The health assessment is voluntary and we thought there may be a perception that we would be using it as a screening tool which is not what the point of it was.”

The company was surprised to find more than 80% of drivers volunteered to take part in the health assessment.

But the initiative didn’t end there. Celadon recently introduced an in-house Weight Watchers program which saw the fleet’s Canadian and US drivers collectively shed nearly 1,000 lbs.

“The Weight Watchers program is something we’re still working on refining because of the challenges that exist with the administrative staff in one place and fleet members travelling all across the country,” Koven told Truck News. Participating drivers had to return to the terminal at least once a week to take part in the program. But another Celadon health program promises equal opportunity for involvement among all drivers – regardless of the routes they run or their schedules.

The company launched a Walk to Laredo contest this spring which allows employees to accumulate points while exercising. A series of goals were established with ‘fuel stops’ along the way where prizes have been awarded to drivers who complete each leg of the journey.

Walking, jogging, biking and other types of exercise are accepted under the program with a grand prize of $500 up for grabs. Drivers track their accomplishments in a Walk to Laredo logbook.

Celadon isn’t the only carrier placing a renewed emphasis on employee health. APPS Transport Group recently moved into a new 160,000 sq.-ft. terminal. The company incorporated a 1,500 sq.-ft. gym into the facility including training bikes, a treadmill, free weights, a heavy bag and other fitness equipment. But plopping a bunch of exercise equipment in a spare room isn’t enough to encourage involvement, admits Rob McDonald, president of APPS. So the company has hired a full-time personal trainer (a former Mr. Canada) with every employee having exclusive access to the trainer for half an hour, twice a week.

“Our full-time fitness instructor works on an individual basis with employees and he has given everybody access to a meal nutrition program and he counsels them on good eating,” said McDonald. “One of the things we’re trying to promote to them is you can make healthy choices as opposed to just taking the easy route. When you pull up in front of a Tim Horton’s/Wendy’s combo store, it’s easier to grab a burger and a pop than salad and a juice. But we’re trying to make them more aware so that they pick something that’s going to work for them.”

Having a personal trainer available ensures employees are pushed to achieve their health goals.

“You pick a time and book it with the trainer and if you’re not there when you’re supposed to be, he’s on the phone calling you,” McDonald said.

So far, McDonald says more than half the company’s employees are taking advantage of the program and there’s been a coinciding improvement in morale.

Bison Transport has also installed gyms at each of its terminals. When the gyms were first opened, a personal trainer was brought in to show employees how to properly use the equipment. Vice-president Rob Penner told Truck News the program has been a hit with drivers.

“It’s very well-used,” Penner said. “During working hours, somebody is in there at any given time and late at night you will find some of our drivers in there frequently.”

Bison also publishes a newsletter with information from the Canada Food Guide and other nutritional tips. Bison also keeps driver health in mind when spec’ing company trucks – each is equipped with a fridge and inverter and other options that make it easier to maintain a healthy lifestyle on the road.

“It’s a big part of how we spec’ our trucks,” Penner said. Finally, Bison also offers in-house yoga and pilates classes.

Fast facts:

* In Ontario, there were 25,781 lost time claims among equipment operators in 2005, representing 28.7% of overall lost time claims.

* In 2006, the average cost per lost time injury in Ontario was $98,000. With a 6% profit margin, a carrier would need to bring in $1.5 million in sales to recover that loss.

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