The trucking industry is one of the largest employers in North America. Like many truckers Benoit is a long-haul driver, which means he drives freight over long distances spending days, weeks, and even months at a time on the road. For Benoit, long-haul driving is a lifestyle since his truck is not only his workplace but also his home. With over 300,000 truck drivers in Canada, Benoit is not alone in the health challenges that he faces as he drives long days and distances to meet delivery deadlines. He routinely contends with sore muscles, limited menu choices, and prolonged periods of sitting. Fortunately, there are steps that both employers and workers can take to minimize the health and safety risks that come with long-haul trucking.
Truckers work in unique conditions that present health and safety challenges for themselves and their employers. Irregular schedules, long hours, little physical activity, limited access to healthy foods on the road, and stress make healthy living a challenge for long-haul truck drivers. Truck drivers have a greater chance of developing many chronic diseases and health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and obesity compared to other adult workers. In addition, in 2012, US heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers experienced three times as many non-fatal injuries and musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) from falls, slips and trips, overexertion, and lifting and lowering objects compared to other adult workers.
A work life on the road comes with its challenges but with awareness of the daily issues facing truckers, making adjustments to the physical environment, and taking steps to maintain a healthy lifestyle, truckers can stay healthy and keep moving.
Stress and Fatigue
Commercial truck drivers work extremely long days in a high-stress environment. Their job requires them to meet tight schedules and stay alert for many hours a day.
According to a 2010 National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) survey conducted at 32 truck stops with 1,265 long-haul truck drivers, many drivers face unrealistic deadlines that may contribute to risky behaviours and increase the risk of injury. Of those surveyed, nearly 75% of drivers considered their delivery schedules too tight, which NIOSH said could be an incentive for them to be unsafe.
Surveyed drivers reported “sometimes” or “often” taking risky behaviours such as driving when tired, in poor weather conditions or in heavy traffic. Over 25% reported violating hours-of-service rules and speeding to meet delivery deadlines.
To ease the stress and reduce the likelihood of driver fatigue NIOSH recommends that employers:
- ensure on-time delivery expectations do not lead to hours-of-service violations,
- educate drivers on safe behavior, and
- ensure entry-level drivers receive adequate training.
To reduce the need for speeding or skipping rest breaks, employers could set limits on maximum driving distances and allow staff to make overnight stops. Delivery schedules should include sufficient time for drivers to take into account foreseeable weather and traffic conditions.
When the highway is where you spend most of your working hours and you are under time pressure, gas stations and truck stops are often the only places for something to eat. These can be difficult places for finding nutritional, fresh and healthy food options.
Many drivers report unhealthy eating habits, which consist of fast food, high sodium content, and no fruits or vegetables.
The same NIOSH survey revealed that 7 in 10 long-haul drivers are obese (twice the average number of US adult workers). Obesity increases the chance for health problems including: type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea, heart disease, cancer, joint and back pain, and stroke.
Preventing health problems related to diet starts with eating healthier and smaller portions. Truckers should be encouraged to:
- bring their own healthy food options such as fruits and vegetables on the road,
- drink water instead of sugary drinks like soft drinks,
- take the time to be more physically active, and
- try to keep their weight within their ideal range.
Anyone who spends a lot of time in a vehicle is likely to experience the aches and pains that come from prolonged sitting. Truck drivers experience this type of pain more often as it is more difficult to shift body positions while driving.
Discomfort and lower back pain are frequent complaints reported by drivers. In the UK, the term “repetitive driving injury” (RDI) has been used. These injuries include foot cramps, low back pain, stiff neck, and sore shoulders from poor posture, stress, tension, and staying in one posture for an extended period. RDI is a form of work-related musculoskeletal disorder (WMSD).
Poor posture can result from personal driving habits, or from an improperly adjusted or fitted seat. The shape of the vehicle seat may put pressure on selected parts of the legs, back and buttocks. This contact can lead to pain or discomfort at pressure points and may affect blood flow to the legs and feet. Low frequency whole-body vibration in trucks can also contribute to effects on the lower back.
Some tips for preventing back pain from sitting for long periods include:
- Empty your back pockets before you drive so your back isn’t tilted to one side.
- Don’t slump in your seat.
- Use a lumber support, cushion, or rolled towel to support your lower back.
- Change the seat position a few degrees every 20 or 30 minutes.
- Adjust your mirrors after you have adjusted your seat to avoid twisting and stretching.
- Adjust your seat and steering wheel so you can press the pedals without moving your lower back away from the back of the seat.
- Adjust your seat so that your knees are at the same height or slightly lower than your hips when driving.
- Take a break - get out of the truck to stand, stretch, and walk to help circulate the blood in your legs and give a much needed rest to the muscles needed to sit. It only takes 5 minutes every hour.
- Stay fit – maintaining strong abdominal muscles will support your back and reduce the likelihood of back pain.
Long-haul truck drivers are also at increased risk of workplace violence, injury due to manual handling of loads, effects of shift work, etc. Employers and drivers need to be aware of the risks and put prevention strategies into place – for the long haul.
- NIOSH Studies, National Survey of Long-Haul Truck Driver Health and Injury, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- StartSafe for Truckers (PDF), WorkSafeBC
- Driving for Work OSHWiki, EU-OSHA (European Agency of Safety and Health at Work)
- Driving and Ergonomics Fact Sheet, CCOHS
- Downside of Sitting on Our Backsides, Health and Safety Report Vol.8 Issue 3, CCOHS
- Aches and Pains – Long Haul Truck Driving (PDF), Employment and Social Development Canada
Tips & Tools
How to secure your portable ladder
Before you mount that portable ladder learn what precautions you must take to secure it and avoid becoming an injury statistic. Falls from portable ladders are a common cause of workplace injuries often because the ladder is not used properly.
Follow these 10 tips to secure your ladder and be safe on the climb.
- Rest the top of the ladder against a solid surface that can withstand the load.
- Attach a ladder stay across the back of a ladder where the surface being leaned against cannot withstand the load. For example, extend the stay across a window for firm support against the building walls or window frame.
- Guard or fence off the area around a ladder erected in an area where persons have access.
- Secure the ladder firmly at the top to prevent it from slipping sideways or the foot from slipping outwards.
- Station a person at the foot of the ladder when it is not possible to tie it at the top or secure it at the foot. This technique is effective only for ladders up to 5 m (16 ft.) long.
- Ensure that the person at the foot of the ladder faces the ladder with a hand on each side rail and one foot resting on the bottom rung.
- Attach hooks on top of ladder rails when the ladder is to be used at a constant height.
- Do not rest a ladder on any rung. Only the side rails are designed for this purpose.
- Secure the base of the ladder to prevent accidental movement. Securing a ladder at the foot does not prevent a side slip at the top.
- Use ladders equipped with nonslip feet. Otherwise, nail a cleat to the floor or anchor the feet or bottom of the side rails.
Approximately 1.5 million workers in Canada are exposed to the sun on the job. Sun exposure is a serious – and largely preventable – occupational hazard. Sun Safety at Work Canada is a national project funded by the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer that aims to develop a sun safety program for outdoor workers that will address both skin cancer and heat stress prevention, and can be implemented by individual workplaces.
Sun exposure is the leading cause of skin cancer and can cause other health issues including sunburn, skin damage, cataracts, eye damage, and heat stress.
According to the Canadian Cancer Society, skin cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in the country. About 67% of outdoor workers spend two or more hours a day working in the sun so it may not be surprising that they have a 2.5-3.5 times greater risk of developing skin cancer than indoor workers. The occupations with the largest number of workers exposed to sun include construction, farming, and building care and maintenance. In 2014, as many as 7,000 skin cancers were attributed to work-related sun exposure.
The risk of heat stress for outdoor workers continues to be a serious concern, with heat stroke being the most deadly form of heat stress. Both skin cancer and heat stress are largely preventable. And while elimination and substitution of the sun are not possible, there are a number of strategies workplaces can use to reduce the risk of overexposure to the sun for outdoor workers.
Piloting Sun Safety Programs
The Sun Safety at Work Canada project involves implementing sun safety interventions at 16 worksites in three regions across Canada. The workplaces are focused on the development and implementation of tailored sun safety programs, which include best practices and resources to protect outdoor workers from occupational sun exposure. The information and lessons learned from the pilot phase will be shared and inform the rest of the project.
Supporting Workplaces across Canada to Implement Sun Safety Programs
The project is developing a comprehensive website that will launch in late summer 2016 and house a range of resources for occupational health and safety practitioners, supervisors, and workers. It is intended that the website and resources will enable workplaces throughout Canada to implement effective, customized and sustainable sun safety policies and practices that can help protect workers from skin cancer and other health issues related to sun exposure.
About The Canadian Partnership Against Cancer
The Canadian Partnership Against Cancer is an independent organization funded by the federal government to accelerate action on cancer control for all Canadians. This partnership includes Ryerson University, the Occupational Cancer Research Centre, and CAREX Canada. The Partnership works with cancer experts, charitable organizations, governments, cancer agencies, national health organizations, patients, survivors and others to implement Canada’s cancer control strategy.
Health and Safety To Go
This month’s Health and Safety To Go! podcasts feature the new episode Arthritis in the Workplace and the podcast Talking About Lyme Disease.
Feature Podcast: Arthritis in the Workplace
Arthritis is one of the leading causes of disability in Canada and typically occurs during the prime working years, between ages 35-50. It is predicted that more than seven million Canadian adults will be diagnosed with arthritis in the next 20 years. Learn what steps you can take to reduce the adverse effects of arthritis in the workplace.
The podcast runs 5:24 minutes.
Encore Podcast: Talking About Lyme Disease
The distribution area of Lyme disease carrying ticks in Canada is expanding. CCOHS explains why it's important to be on the lookout for ticks and how to recognize the signs and symptoms of this disease.
The podcast runs 4:37 minutes.
CCOHS produces free monthly podcasts on a wide variety of topics designed to keep you current with information, tips, and insights into the health, safety, and well-being of working Canadians. You can download the audio segment to your computer or MP3 player and listen to it at your own convenience... or on the go!
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The Health and Safety Report, a free monthly newsletter produced by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), provides information, advice, and resources that help support a safe and healthy work environment and the total well being of workers.
© 2017, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety
Length: 7:24 minutes
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