Trucking’s health crisis can be addressed by employers

Most knowledgeable and informed members of the trucking industry will candidly admit there is a serious health crisis amongst truckers. Sure, it’s easy to identify the most obvious contributing factors to our condition: a sedentary lifestyle, smoking, poor eating habits, irregular sleep patterns, obesity, stress…the list can go on. The apparent remedy seems simple enough, exercise, quit smoking, eat and sleep better. But it’s not so simple. Beyond blaming the trucking industry for our condition, what is the real basis or cause for drivers to disregard their health, their hygiene, their appearance?

What I’ve come to realize is the problem is psychological, rooted in environmental circumstances. I’ve been trucking for over 30 years, I’m physically fit, I have a positive attitude, and I’m very conscientious of my appearance, both on-and off-duty.

On the other hand one fellow driver confided to me while waiting for inspection clearance that he no longer had ‘the will to live!’ On further discussion, he told me he no longer had friends, merely acquaintances, was having marital problems, and no real desire to get into shape.

Yet he seemed to be reasonably, outwardly happy and successful in his chosen profession.

I once met a man who had been a member of the special forces in the military who, as he put it ‘was a lean, mean, killing machine.’ Yet after leaving the forces and becoming a trucker, he had gained over 100 lbs in just over a year and a half.

And what of the drivers I’ve stood behind in a line at some truck stops who have clearly not showered or washed their clothes for several days or longer?

The fact that we are engaged in a service industry should impress upon these men and women that their appearance and presentation is important to the customers they serve.

Yet even the companies they work for seem disinterested in their drivers’ appearance or their overall well-being.

This pervasive attitude within the industry speaks volumes as to why there is such a malaise amongst its drivers.

Many drivers I’ve spoken to express the feeling that they are merely indentured servants, feeling little or no pride or dignity in their jobs.

Their families and friendships are suffering from their long absences as they try to meet the industry’s demands and expectations.

So what can be done aside from an overhauling of the whole industry? Perhaps by considering the physical needs of the drivers and working with both them and the customer, a viable solution can be developed.

Management should genuinely express concern and interest in their drivers’ families and social well-being and even encourage drivers to take the occasional mental health time off. Perhaps bring in speakers or organize periodic health/exercise/therapy events. Provide incentives like rewards for weight loss, simple fitness equipment (resistance bands, workout CDs, portable steppers, etc.) and even provide subsidized gym memberships.

Dispatchers need to be educated on the proper handling of company drivers. Instruct them that home/family time is sacrosanct and they shouldn’t harass a driver to come in early because there’s a load that just has to go. Dispatchers need to book loads so the driver has sufficient time to deliver it without having to sacrifice his/her sleep or off-duty time.

It might be nice if they showed some interest in the drivers’ progress if they’re trying to quit smoking, lose weight or get involved in certain activities. Remember, it’s lonely out there and a friendly familiar voice of encouragement can motivate a driver to put in a little extra effort for his/her dispatcher.

When I joined the company I currently work for as an O/O eight years ago, I was barely treading water financially and emotionally. It wasn’t too long afterwards that working here put the ‘joy of trucking’ back into vogue for me.

The original owners of this company live and work by the ‘Golden Rule’ -treat other people as you would like them to treat you. They don’t exploit or take unfair advantage of their drivers.

I’ve found all reasonable requests for time off is approved without debate. A number of our dispatchers have family who are drivers, so they tend to treat us as they’d like their family to be treated, with respect and consideration.

The drivers are generally supported by management who are willing to consider their suggestions, concerns and even protests. They even support us financially should we O/Os be encumbered with a large repair bill on the road. We are paid for all the work we do -no freebies! This includes sweeping out a trailer, our pre-trips, all pick-ups and deliveries, border crossings, etc.

Our company maintains its equipment to excellent standards. This takes much of the anxiety away from a driver when it comes to travelling safely down the road or crossing a scale.

They encourage and maintain an exceptional safety record. This too diminishes our anxiety when dealing with various enforcement agencies. Drivers are even given the responsibility of determining if road and weather conditions are conducive to safe driving. This company actively participates in a wellness/fitness program put on by a community hospital.

I could go on, but suffice it to say, these are some factors that will contribute to a more positive driving environment and improved productivity. Most importantly, our drivers are less stressed and are generally in better condition, psychologically if not physically than many of their truck stop peers and acquaintances. I know this for a fact because many of our customers tell us so! So how are your drivers doing?

-Alfy Meyer is a health-conscious owner/operator who’s concerned about the health of the trucking industry’s drivers.

Truck News is Canada's leading trucking newspaper - news and information for trucking companies, owner/operators, truck drivers and logistics professionals working in the Canadian trucking industry.

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