Since March, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many companies to operate remotely. The sudden change in work-life balance has been challenging but has also provided peace of mind for concerned workforces. In addition to avoiding rush hour traffic and the 9-5 grind, working remotely has become an attractive alternative for those looking to spare themselves from infection. However, not everyone is afforded this luxury.
Truck drivers across the country are just as concerned about the coronavirus as most Americans but are unable to adequately protect themselves. Driving from one city to another, interacting with warehouse staff at each point, as well as visiting truck stops in between has undoubtedly put commercial truck drivers at a greater risk of exposure to the virus than the general public.
However, it’s not only their travel patterns that are putting drivers at risk. The sedentary lifestyle and habits of commercial truckers should also be a concern as many suffer health problems stemming from high rates of smoking and obesity. In addition, truckers tend to be older than the U.S. workforce as a whole. These risk factors make truck drivers a heightened target for COVID-19.
While truckers continue to operate on the frontlines of the pandemic, motor carriers should ask themselves if they could be doing more to protect the health and well-being of their drivers.
FreightWaves spoke with Timur Tilenov, chief executive officer and owner of consulting agency Aitim Inc. for his thoughts on how trucking companies can better safeguard the health of their drivers and workforce as coronavirus cases continue to make headlines.
Tilenov has an extensive history in transportation and logistics, most recently serving as chief executive officer of Chicago-based truckload carrier KGZ Transport. Although he is no longer with the company, he still consults with the motor carrier on best practices for driver recruiting and safety compliance.
“This is a time when we have to think a little bit differently and focus more on helping drivers,” Tilenov said. “We need to be more patient and respectful towards them.”
Since the start of the outbreak, Tilenov and KGZ have made virus prevention a top priority. The company immediately offered its drivers video training covering COVID-19 safety basics including proper hand washing techniques and how to practice social distancing. The truckload carrier has also provided each driver with gloves and an adequate supply of hand sanitizer and masks to keep in their cab.
Tilenov detailed KGZ’s truck cleaning routine, too, in which its fleet mechanics or members of a third-party sanitation company thoroughly clean the interior of each vehicle that enters the workshop. Whether a truck comes in for a routine maintenance visit or is scheduled for a monthly inspection, each cab receives a wipe down.
After a couple of months, KGZ hasn’t allowed its safety protocols to slip. In fact, you could argue that it’s become more rigorous.
KGZ requires its 35 drivers to send their managers a wellness check via text every morning and are encouraged to inform the company if they’ve been around anyone who has shown COVID-19-related symptoms.
In addition to wellness checks, Tilenov explained that KGZ has temporarily restricted its drivers from operating in markets with high levels of reported COVID-19 cases.
“At the moment, we aren’t sending any drivers to California or Florida to keep our workforce safe,” Tilenov said. “On the off chance that we do have to send an emergency load to an affected area, we will instruct drivers to review the safety guidelines beforehand once again.”
Tilenov advises KGZ’s drivers to be protective as they drive over the road. He suggests wearing masks and gloves when outside the vehicle at all times, especially when refueling or walking around truck stops. Tilenov also recommends keeping face-to-face interactions to a minimum at pick-up or drop-off facilities and to ask warehouse staff if it’s possible to remain in the truck while the trailer is being loaded and unloaded.
He also gave this warning to the company’s drivers. “Always wash your hands before you get into your truck because that is where you spend the majority of your time every day.”
The stringent rules for virus prevention even apply to drivers seeking employment with the company.
When it comes to driver hiring, KGZ provides recruits with a one-night hotel stay near their offices a day before the interview. Tilenov explained this precautionary measure is used to ensure the driver isn’t showing symptoms before interacting with members of the KGZ office.
“We have adjusted our hiring strategies,” Tilenov said. “We used to have at least four people from different departments participate in the interview process but we’ve since limited it to just one person.”
Tilenov advises motor carriers to take similar precautions when it comes to driver recruiting and suggests recruiters ask prospective candidates whether they’ve recently traveled through areas with high COVID-19 infection rates.