Most discussions on trucker safety focus on driving habits and other vehicle-related actions. While these factors are undoubtedly critical to ensuring truck drivers stay safe, the industry should also consider some less obvious issues. Driver health receives less attention, and that should change.
More than 50% of truck drivers are obese, compared to 26.7% of all U.S. adults. Similarly, diabetes is 50% more common in truckers than in the general population, and 54% of truckers smoke, compared to just 21% overall. These health issues can put drivers at greater risk of disease, increase their medical bills, hinder their quality of life and even endanger their lives.
Many of these health trends result from the industry’s long hours, little flexibility and limited options. Consequently, the trucking industry must change to promote healthier lifestyles. Here’s how it can do so.
1. Provide Health Information Resources
The first way the industry can fight unhealthy lifestyle choices is with information. Many drivers may be unaware of how to make healthier choices, and there are limited resources available to teach them. Truckers report that 70% of trucking companies and 81% of truck stops have no health promotion programs.
Studies suggest that providing more information could help promote healthier lifestyles. While 96% of American adults want their food choices to deliver health benefits, only 45% can accurately name the ones that can. Health coaching programs can help address that latter figure, providing a way forward for truckers.
Trucking companies and truck stops should offer resources to teach truckers how to improve their eating, exercise and other health habits. Information alone won’t solve the sector’s health issues, but it provides a starting point. Without it, becoming healthier is far more challenging.
2. Make Schedules More Flexible
One of the reasons so many truckers face health issues is because of their schedules. Since truckers work long hours, they may not have the time to exercise regularly. Even though it’s possible to work out in 10 minutes, drivers may be too tired after a long day on the road.
More flexible schedules would help give drivers the time they need to become more physically active. When that’s not possible, another solution is to send them on the road in pairs. While one drives, the other can relax or sleep, helping them feel less tired when they stop and encouraging more physical activity.
Having drivers travel in pairs will also boost trucker health by improving their sleep schedules. Sleep deficiency can increase the risk of obesity, heart disease, stroke and more. Truck drivers can prevent these risks by taking more time for shuteye.
3. Offer Access to Exercise Programs as a Benefit
Another obstacle drivers face in trying to live healthier is a lack of access to necessary resources. Truckers may not know of any available exercise programs or how to get started, and even if they do, they may be expensive. Trucking companies can encourage exercise by providing these programs as a job benefit.
Drivers who stay with the company for a given amount of time could get a free gym membership as a perk. More truckers may be willing to try programs they don’t need to pay for. Offering these benefits company-wide can also provide a social reason for going, as truckers will be in the gym with peers and co-workers.
Trucking companies can try to make these options more enticing by offering various options. For example, boxing can burn up to 800 calories in an hour and may interest drivers more than an ordinary gym. Providing fun ways to exercise like this may encourage more participation.
4. Reward Healthy Behavior
Similarly, trucking companies can encourage healthier lifestyle choices by rewarding them. A sense of competition, or even just the thought of a prize, can convince drivers who may not otherwise be interested in health programs. Companies can create a tier system where drivers who meet different goals receive increasing awards.
For example, a company could offer monetary bonuses, days off or gift cards for completing different weight loss tiers. These programs don’t have to last year-round, but holding them regularly can encourage ongoing healthier choices. After living this way for a month or two, drivers may want to adopt those behaviors permanently.
While these initiatives can create a spirit of competition, companies shouldn’t lean into the competitive side too much. Rewards should be based on completing goals, not outperforming others. Otherwise, these programs could have the opposite effect than intended, discouraging some employees from participating.
5. Promote Convenient Care Clinics
There are more than 40,000 medical providers that conduct Department of Transportation and CDL medical exams. Many of these locations are also convenient care clinics, which can be a useful health resource for drivers. Trucking companies should promote them so drivers know where they can find information about their health.
Convenient care clinics can assess truckers’ health, provide any needed care and help them develop a roadmap for healthier living. Having easy, affordable access to this care can significantly affect driver health, but they have to know about them first.
Trucking companies should inform new hires about these clinics and continue to promote them through newsletters, emails and signage. The more companies talk about them, the more likely drivers are to check them out.
6. Work With Truck Stops to Improve Offerings
Truck stops play a critical role in the health and lifestyle of truckers. Since drivers spend much of their downtime at these locations, that’s where they make many crucial health choices. They’re also notoriously insufficient when it comes to healthy offerings, so trucking companies should work with them to improve.
One study found that not one surveyed stop offered exercise facilities, and 81% didn’t even have a walking path. Most also only had a few healthy food offerings, with 25% lacking them entirely. If these areas had more options, trucker health would likely improve.
Trucking companies can see if they can partner with these stops to offer better choices. Funding exercise facilities or healthier food options will go a long way.
Trucker Health Must Improve
Healthier truckers will spend less on medical bills, have a higher quality of life and live longer. While health may be a matter of personal choices, trucking companies can help improve the safety of their employees by promoting better options.
As it currently stands, the trucking industry faces something of a health crisis. If more companies follow these steps, they can make the profession an altogether healthier one.