LETHBRIDGE, Alta. – The Top 3 health issues facing the trucking industry today are sleep apnea, medical marijuana and age, Darcy Hansen of Healthy Worker believes.
Speaking to Truck West during the Southern Alberta Truck Expo in Lethbridge June 18, Hansen, president of Healthy Worker, a provider of occupational hygiene and health services in Southern Alberta, said with North Americans commonly weighing in on the obese side of the scale, those at risk of sleep apnea is on the rise.
Sleep apnea is generally seen in those whose neck circumference measures 47 cm or more, which indicates an excess of fat or other components in the neck that are blocking an adequate amount of oxygen getting into the blood stream, causing an individual to wake.
“(The trucking industry) is a sedentary job,” Hansen said. “There are physical requirements to strap down a load, to do your inspection of your vehicle…but then the majority of your job, when you’re not doing your pre-trip, post-trip, loading or unloading, is going to be a sedentary duty.”
Hansen said a lack of exercise and poor hydration and nutrition means ‘everything is stacked against truck drivers’ when it comes to their health and risk of sleep apnea, and more should be done to help those in the industry have access to these necessities, even suitable rest stops.
“We don’t really support the trucking industry to have lots of washrooms for them where they can pull in, go to the washroom, get back in the truck and roll,” he said. “We don’t support adequate hydration, we don’t support elimination of that hydration and we don’t support a very quick and nutritious meal for those in the trucking industry…and they work long hours.”
Medical marijuana is another health issue many companies will have to face, if they have not had to already. But it is not the fact that people are being prescribed the substance that concerns Hansen.
“I personally believe that medical marijuana is fantastic,” he said, adding that he is a former Canadian Armed Forces member and there is a program being launched called ‘Marijuana for Trauma’ for those who suffer from issues like post-traumatic stress disorder.
Hansen said physicians who prescribe medical marijuana to a patient must also ensure the person is able to perform safety-sensitive duties in the workplace, like driving a truck.
“I think that’s the best road to go down, is to stay on that medical marijuana side and just focus on how that impacts that workforce before they even talk about recreational use,” Hansen said. “When you see the LCBO talking about distribution of recreational marijuana prior to any discussion in legislation about what we’re going to do long-term as a plan, that’s irresponsible.”
Other issues arise when additional drugs or narcotics come into play, something Hansen believes can be a problem when trucking companies look to other industries which may not have the same drug and alcohol standards to find employees.
“Having new drivers coming in from industries where they already know and understand all the drug and alcohol components is probably the biggest risk for pre-employment,” he said, adding that several drivers from other industries “knew how to cheat a test.”
“The majority of the time for established drivers, they know the rules.”
The Department of Transportation is now screening for a wider variety of drug use in potential new drivers, adding in tests for things like ecstasy and methamphetamines. Hansen said fentanyl use has become a growing concern, as it is not testing for during drug screening, yet it is 100 times more potent than morphine.
Though it may not fall under the standard definition for ‘health concern’, age rounded out Hansen’s Top 3 issues facing the industry.
He said there are two problems with age – one being that young, or any new drivers coming into the industry cannot get hired by trucking companies because their lack of experience means they do not qualify for the business’ insurance policy.
New drivers must first put in hours behind the wheel doing local, in-town trips, or take part in a mentorship program to gain necessary experience.
The other issue with age arises when older drivers are baring down on retirement age get back into a truck despite any health issues they may be bringing with them.
Hansen believes the industry will be facing a challenge in the next decade with younger drivers being unable to work due to insurance liability issues and older drivers starting to retire coupled with the imminent onset of automated trucks, particularly in the warmer, more predictable climates, becoming more commonplace.
With fewer bodies behind the wheel of semi-trucks, the industry’s image is sure to be altered for good.