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Caring for our truckers: A critical link in the US supply chain during the COVID-19 pandemic

Truckers are a critical link in the U.S. supply chain and steps should be taken to help protect them. One of them is limiting unnecessary contact. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of FreightWaves or its affiliates.

Truckers are a critical link in the U.S. supply chain. Today, during the current coronavirus pandemic, this critical link takes on even greater significance. These Highway Heroes harken back to the days of the White Knights of Trucking.

Whether it’s bringing necessary food products to market, household items to those sheltering in place, or healthcare supplies to our hospitals and critical care facilities, our truckers are on the front lines with other responders working long hours to meet the needs of our country during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The high demand is only one challenge trucking operations currently face. Drivers out on the road do not want to endanger their families when they come home and many of them are among the most at-risk populations, including those over 65 years of age. For these reasons, it is critical to keep truck drivers safe and healthy while working during this critical period. 

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and many states have recognized the need to increase flexibility so that critical supplies can move more efficiently to where they need to go by relaxing a number of regulations. With so many drivers willing to go beyond what should be expected of them and the loads more critical to the U.S. public at large, we need truckers to remain healthy so that supplies can continue to move safely to their destination.  The following are some ways to keep drivers out on the road:

1.    Minimize interactions. Drivers should avoid going onto docks or into shipping offices when possible and use their own pens and clipboards when signing paperwork.  Always try to keep at least six feet of space whenever interpersonal interaction is required.  When fueling, always pay at the pump if possible and avoid congregating at truck stops.  Advise drivers to bring food and drinks with them so that they can stay out of small and crowded rest stops when possible.  If a driver needs to go into a facility or have a conversation with another party, a mask or face covering should be worn.

2.    Practice good hygiene. Take 20 seconds or more to lather and rinse both hands in their entirety often.  If soap is not available, alcohol based (at least 60%) hand sanitizes and wipes should be used.  Gloves should be worn when touching surfaces that others often come into contact with or whenever they are moving any product. This includes fuel nozzles, handles and doors.

3.    Keep equipment clean.  Drivers should be wiping down the parts of their trucks they touch often every 2-3 hours, with wipes or disinfecting sprays. The entire cab should be cleaned at least once a day and all waste kept neatly in a small trash bag that can be tossed at a stop.  If trucks are going to be used by more than one driver, they should be thoroughly cleaned by staff before the next driver enters the cab.

4.    Stay in touch. Drivers need to be in regular voice contact with dispatch and loved ones so they don’t get lonely during the challenging times out on the road. They need to know that it is ok to ask whenever they are concerned about a situation and that the team back home is there to support them.  Dispatch needs to show additional empathy during this period to truckers that are away from their family and working in an even more solitary situation than usual.  Because news is sometimes hard to come by while driving and the CB is a great place for gossip updated information and positive reinforcement is more important than ever.

5.    Take good care.  Drivers should be instructed to stay home if they are not feeling well.  Whether they are infected with COVID-19 or another illness, an unfamiliar clinic or hospital is not a healthy place right now.  Drivers should, when possible, get enough rest, eat healthy and exercise so that they stay alert and keep their bodies in good shape. Drivers should be instructed to keep a “health pack” in their truck that includes a thermometer, latex gloves, wipes, and over the counter medicines that they regularly use. 

6.    Plan routes thoughtfully.  Dispatch should inform drivers about hours of shipping and receiving docks.  They should also be giving updated ETA’s so that trucks can spend a short a time as possible at facilities and not get stuck waiting for open dock slots.  Drivers should be provided with updated information on which truck stops and rest areas are open so that they can stop for breaks and rest at normal intervals.  Some retailers and other property owners have relaxed parking restrictions at this time which can be very helpful when trying to get rest in more populated areas.  Let them know where outbreak hotspots are so that they can avoid parking their trucks in these areas if possible.

Remember that we are all in this together! We need truck drivers to keep us supplied and they need us to provide more support than ever.  Working together, there is nothing we cannot overcome.

Lilli Chiu, contributor

Lilli Chiu is an assistant vice president and senior risk consultant for global insurance brokerage Hub International and its transportation services division. She brings nearly 20 years of experience in occupational health and safety consulting and commercial insurance risk management. Chiu has an extensive background working in regulatory compliance and safety consulting and co-leads a team of risk consultants focused on the transportation and commercial fleet industry. She develops a wide range of consulting services in all sectors of business to identify and control workplace hazards and organizational exposures to reduce a client’s overall total cost of risk.