The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of FreightWaves or its affiliates.
Truckers have always been a critical link in the U.S. supply chain. They are now on the front lines with other responders meeting the needs of our country during the COVID-19 pandemic. While much of the population shelters in place, there is still a critical need for food, household goods and healthcare supplies across the country. The surge in demand has been huge and the need has rarely been greater. Today’s truck drivers are going above and beyond what should be expected of them for the good of everyone.
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and many states have recognized the need to increase capacity and flexibility so that critically needed supplies can move more efficiently to where they need to go. The DOT relaxed some hours of service requirements and some states are allowing heavier loads to speed up the process of bringing supplies to the front lines. Seeing people cheer truckers on the side of the road shows that everyone knows how important these knights of the highway are to our country.
The huge level of demand is only the first challenge that trucking operations face. There is still a shortage of qualified drivers and many of them are among the most
at-risk populations of the pandemic. It is critical to keep truck drivers safe and healthy while they are responding during this critical period. Simply put, drivers put themselves at risk simply by doing their jobs. It is up to them and their supervisors to observe and create practices that reduce the risk to their well-being as much as possible.
Truckers need to stay healthy so that loads can continue to be moved safely. We need to have enough drivers out on the road so that transport remains the strongest link in the supply chain. Some drivers that have significant health issues or are older than 65 have been told that the risk to them is too great and cannot be out on the road, which means that their brothers and sisters need to protect themselves as much as possible.
Some of the best practices for drivers out on the road include:
Reduce close interactions with others. While practicing social distancing is challenging, it can be done. Drivers should avoid going onto docks or into shipping offices when possible. They should 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. Tell drivers to bring food and drinks with them so that they can stay out of smaller and more crowded stores. Allow dispatchers and other office staff to work remotely as much as possible.
Practice good hygiene at all times. Washing your hands as often as possible is important. It should take at least 20 seconds to lather and rinse both hands in their entirety to get them clean. If soap is not available, alcohol-based (at least 60%) hand sanitizers and wipes should be used. Gloves should be worn when touching surfaces that others often come into contact with such as fuel nozzles, handles and doors. It is also a good idea to have some type of moisturizer to help as hands can get dried out from washing so much.
Keep equipment clean. Drivers should be wiping down the parts of their trucks they touch the most every two to three hours. Use wipes or disinfecting sprays to keep surfaces clean. The entire cab should be cleaned at least once a day and all waste kept neatly in a small trash bag that can be disposed of at a stop.
Stay in touch. These can be lonely and challenging times out on the road. Drivers need to be in regular voice contact with dispatch and loved ones so that they know what is going on and can get needed human interaction. They need to know that it is okay to ask whenever they are concerned about a situation and that the team back home is there to support them.
Take good care. Drivers should 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 at this time. Additionally they need to get plenty of rest and eat healthy food, and exercise so that they stay alert and keep their bodies in good shape. They should also keep a “health pack” in their truck that includes a thermometer, latex gloves, wipes, and over-the-counter medicines that they regularly use. If a driver comes into contact with an infected individual, they should contact a healthcare provider immediately.
Plan routes thoughtfully. Trucking companies should provide resources to their drivers on which truck stops and rest areas are open so that drivers can stop for breaks and rest at normal intervals. Some retailers and others have relaxed parking restrictions at this time that can be helpful. Know when shippers and consignees are open so that drivers do not get into a frustrating hurry up and wait cycle. Let them know where hotspots are so that they can avoid leaving their trucks in these areas if possible.
We are all in this together! We need truck drivers to keep us supplied and they need us to give them more support than ever. If we work together, there is nothing that cannot be overcome.