Ontario researching the risky business of trucking

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MISSISSAUGA, Ont. – Trucking can be a risky business. And when a worker is injured or killed in Ontario, Ron Kelusky is one of the first to hear about it in his role as the Ministry of Labour’s chief prevention officer.

The province’s transportation industry typically records 18 to 22 fatalities per year, he said during an address to the Women’s Trucking Federation of Canada. The general trucking sector reports about 2,000 lost-time injuries during that same time frame.

But truck drivers are three times more likely to be injured in a fall rather than a highway collision, he noted, referring to about 500 such injuries per year. And most of those falls are from heights of three meters or less.

The Ministry of Labour recently held a series of workshops with trucking industry representatives to identify the top risks in the general freight sector. The Top 10 issues that emerged were:

  • Distracted driving
  • Driver fatigue
  • The actions of other careless drivers.
  • Everyday car drivers who are not trained in truck awareness
  • Driving conditions
  • Slips, trips and falls
  • Stress
  • Inadequate or insufficient training, skills and qualifications
  • Illness resulting from the lifestyle of a long-distance truck driver
  • Working at heights (such as tarping loads)

The goal of the initiative involves looking beyond workplace accidents, though. It’s about identifying underlying causes in the journey to solutions.

“If we just look at the accident and we don’t look at things around the accident, we’re never going to resolve it,” Kelusky explained.

Even cases of impaired driving need extra scrutiny, he said as an example. “If you focus only on cannabis use or alcohol, you miss the other subtleties that cause impairment – like fatigue, like distractibility, like anxiety.”

The threat of sleep apnea

Truck drivers who suffer from sleep apnea are five times more likely to be involved in a crash, added Dr. Geoff Fernie of the University of Toronto and Toronto Rehabilitation Hospital.

But the risks to drivers involve far more than fatigue-related collisions. Those with sleep apnea are four times more likely to have a stroke and are three to four times more likely to suffer from high blood pressure, he said.

One of the challenges is getting drivers to participate in related research, such as the screening Toronto Rehab has been conducting over the past three years.

“Drivers don’t trust us or anyone else to measure them for sleep apnea,” he said, suggesting they may think their jobs could be at risk with a positive diagnosis. “There’s nothing wrong with driving with sleep apnea if you’re treated for it. You’re immediately a safe driver if you’ve had treatment.”

Granted, Fernie believes the issue is being over-diagnosed in the U.S.

South of the border, cases are being identified if a sleeper’s breathing pattern is interrupted five times per hour. The Toronto-based researchers focus on those whose breathing is interrupted at least five to 10 times per hour.

There’s no evidence that treatments will make any difference to those with fewer sleep interruptions, he said.

But Fernie also foresees a day when those with sleep apnea will need to be treated if they want to be truck drivers.

“We want to see how big a problem we really do have in Canada,” he told the crowd, encouraging people to participate in the research project. “We may end up with having to prove that we’re healthy enough to be truck drivers.”



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John G. Smith is the editorial director of Newcom Media's trucking and supply chain publications -- including Today's Trucking, trucknews.com, TruckTech, Transport Routier, and Road Today. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

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