Health risks of over-the-road truckers under new study

 Healthy sitting behind the wheel. Proper truck seats adjustment before hitting the road.  (Photo: Shutterstock)

Healthy sitting behind the wheel. Proper truck seats adjustment before hitting the road. (Photo: Shutterstock)

A research team, led by Associate Professor of UNBC’s School of Health Sciences Dr. Mamdouh Shubair, is trying to better understand factors that impact driver’s health, safety, and wellness. The research project is a joint effort between UNBC, the University of Saskatchewan, University of Waterloo, Transport Canada and SafetyDriven, the Trucking Safety Council of B.C. and has been funded by WorkSafe B.C. 

“To our awareness there has been no other studies in Canada that have specifically looked at health, safety and wellness (HS&W) amongst long-haul truck drivers,” Shubair writes to FreightWaves by email. “Our study is unique in that it provides a spectrum of questions focused on truck drivers’ lifestyle behaviors, but also challenges to their lifestyle due to factors such as stress, fatigue, road hazards including motor vehicle accidents, and environmental risks due to weather conditions such as snow and ice making roads slippery during Winter months in Canada.”

To gather their data the research team has created two online surveys—one for truckers and one for trucking companies—to learn more about truckers' behaviors, and to find out what trucking companies are doing to support drivers to lead a healthier lifestyle. The study will continue to collect the survey results until January 2019 and hope to gather about 1,000 responses from truckers and 1,000 from employers.

“We are in the midst of actual data collection through online surveys. We are aggregating all data but have not yet fully analyzed the data. However, our pilot study results and preliminary findings indicate that lifestyle and health issues such as unhealthy eating, drinking, and substance/drug use lead to fatigue and other physical and psychosocial and mental health issues in truck drivers. Our preliminary results also indicate the pivotal need for employers within trucking companies to provide a supportive environment for their truck drivers, including but not limited to, flexible work hours, better policies that promote health and wellness best practice programs within organizations (trucking companies). We have not seen anything going “against the grain of expectations,” Shubair writes.

“We intend to use the data to work primarily with the Employers/Managers within trucking companies (and relevant organizations) to develop Best Practice Guidelines/recommendations for health promotion and safety programs. Such consultations and work with employers/managers who have vested interest in their Truckers’ health would be things “we might be able to do to help with the overall lifestyle of over-the-road, long haul truck drivers.”

This means identifying any gaps of any existing programs and enhancing/improving such programs. Considerations for suggesting ‘new’ health promotion programs and uptake is part of our Knowledge Translation (KT) strategy after we disseminate the full results of the data. This will be in several months time – after we complete data collection and have time to analyze the survey data.

According to one survey, only 30% of truck drivers have a primary care physician. Also, due to dietary and lifestyle challenges 69% of drivers struggle with obesity, and another 18% claim they are away from home for at least 30 days at a time.

Overall, professional truck drivers are at risk an elevated risk for illnesses and poor health, but lack the time away from work to seek the healthcare they need. Of that there is little room for debate. The question then quickly becomes what—if anything—can be done to improve the lives and lifestyles of those committed to the profession.

Interestingly enough, the emergence of tech solutions can facilitate the ease with which drivers can access the appropriate healthcare and wellness professionals they need access to—even with some much time away from home on the road. Hello Alvin, for instance, offers consumers instant access to a healthcare professional through any internet enabled mobile device. The ability to speak with a doctor at any time day or night, provides unprecedented ease of access to healthcare for professional drivers. Also, Excel Health is trying to solve the best outcomes for patients at lower costs, and claim to be leading the world in “post care analytics, solving broken care networks and managing visibility.”

So, while ELD compliance may be a generally a pain to many (if not most) drivers, tech is transforming the industry. While the growing pains of getting on board the “tech highway” are not always easy, the trend continues to move toward efforts to improve efficiencies. These efficiencies translate into increased transparency and access, all towards the end of making life safer and healthier on the long haul.