Long hours behind the wheel for any owner/operator can often lead to several health issues. Some of these health issues can be prevented before becoming serious. Extended periods of sitting and poor eating habits are often the cause of such ailments. Paying close attention to symptoms is extremely important when preventing health issues. Staying educated can also help recognize symptoms and what measures can be taken to avoid them.
Important Health Issues Truckers Should Be Aware Of
Sitting for a long period of time can lead to several health concerns, including obesity and metabolic problems. Increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat in the abdomen, and spiking cholesterol levels should also be considered. These health issues may increase the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer. Symptoms such as headaches can be an early sign of an underlying health concern. Be aware of any persistent discomfort, no matter how mild, and make an appointment with your doctor to check it out.
Some of the most common health issues drivers face in the trucking industry are:
- Obesity and stress can lead to high blood pressure and diabetes.
- Poorly designed workspaces (truck cabs) can cause back and neck injuries.
- The highest rate of musculoskeletal injuries among U.S. workers, often from loading/unloading.
- Exposure to hazardous chemicals.
- The work atmosphere is laced with diesel fumes, which can cause chronic lung problems.
- Smoking can cause cancer and chronic lung problems.
- A high number of fatal injuries, 2/3 caused by highway accidents.
- Extreme fatigue: 1/3 of trucker accidents are caused by dozing at the wheel.
- Dependence on stimulants to stay awake.
- Depression and loneliness from isolation on the job.
- Sleep Apnea
As mentioned before, bad habits can lead to health issues in very subtle ways. Poor personal hygiene, not getting enough exercise, smoking, improper food choices, and even skipping meals altogether are just a few. Be aware of these behaviors and take steps to avoid them if possible. Habits can be hard to break, but in the face of serious health problems, finding the willpower to do so is important. Use every resource available to find ways to change them.
Stress affects everyone in different ways, but we all must deal with it in a way that is best for each individual. Whether it is everyday stressors, like those you face driving, or lifelong stressors such as finances, health problems, or death in the family, there are ways to deal with stress, such as:
- Exercise – While waiting for your truck to be loaded, walk, stretch, or do any other exercise around your truck that keeps you active.
- Healthy snacks – These could be hard to find once you are already on the road, so plan ahead and bring them with you.
- Have fun – When you are home, make time to socialize with your friends and family to alleviate being alone so much and to keep you active.
- Get help – If you are feeling the symptoms of stress, it is important to consult with your doctor as they can help you.
If stress is a concern because of a high workload, speaking with the trucking company can help, as many of these companies will work with their drivers when possible. Drivers may be able to decrease their work schedule and the load they are taking or change the route if that is the problem. Partnering with a non-forced dispatch company can also help reduce the stress of finding and turning down loads. If you have a team member, it can be vital for both drivers to know and understand the symptoms of stress and how each driver can help.
Inaccessibility of Health Care
Consistent time on the road can prevent most drivers from having proper healthcare. However, ignoring signs or symptoms that drivers face will only lead to their health worsening. Having a sedentary lifestyle and bad eating habits can cause some drivers to worry about diabetes. As of 1970, those with diabetes mellitus are restricted from driving; some exemptions are allowed for insulin users, but this causes more hurdles for drivers.
Depression is also a dangerous health concern. With spending a lot of time alone time on the road, away from family and friends, and the lack of work-related relationships, it is easy to succumb to depression. These health concerns, when not taken care of, can cause the high turnover rate (over 100%) that the trucking companies face daily. Many veterans take up the truck driving profession for a different lifestyle; however, they are faced with dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after being deployed on top of the new daily stressors.
Hunting for a Place to Sleep
Another issue that can cause stress is not finding a place to sleep. Since many rest stops are being shut down to reduce costs, it is becoming harder for truckers to find a safe place to rest. Many truckers have to park on the side of the interstate to catch a few hours of restless shut-eye. The thought of not knowing how safe you are and the risk can be enough to keep anyone awake. It is important for drivers to plan their routes ahead of time so they can be safe and get the rest they deserve. A good night’s rest can reduce stress and prevent some other health issues from occurring.
Owner/operators who are employed by transportation logistics providers and freight dispatching companies are encouraged to visit their doctor regularly for check-ups. This can help with the early detection of any potential health problems before they become serious. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can also aid in preventing truck driver health issues. Also, staying informed is vital in making sure that the independent owner/operator stays out on the road.