The challenges of the last few years have demonstrated just how essential Truck Drivers are to the functioning of our economy and our everyday lives. This in-demand career has a lot of benefits to offer but does have a reputation of being a career that will destroy your health.
Our new series will look at drivers' health issues, how these health concerns can impact recruiting, what programs and incentives can improve these issues, and how to adjust your recruitment marketing to highlight your company's efforts in health issue mitigation.
For this, our first article for this series, today we will focus on the health issues that currently exist and the root causes of these issues.
The Most Common Health Care Issues for Truck Drivers
Out of the more than 80 sleep disorders known today, obstructive sleep apnea is the most commonly seen affecting truck drivers. This disorder occurs due to the relaxing of the muscles in your throat, which causes your airways to narrow while sleeping, resulting in a lack of oxygen. The body will wake up very briefly many times throughout the night to restore oxygen flow preventing restorative sleep.
Anyone can develop sleep apnea at any age, but those who are overweight, suffer nasal congestion, smoke, or have several other medical conditions are at greater risk. Men are at a far greater chance of developing sleep apnea than women.
Sleep apnea, beyond causing numerous other issues like diabetes, high blood pressure, etc., leads to daytime drowsiness and fatigue. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, 13% of commercial vehicle crashes were fatigue related.
According to the Mayo Clinic, obesity is "a complex disease involving an excessive amount of body fat." It is most often diagnosed using the BMI (body mass index) chart, though it can be misleading depending on body type. Inherited traits, lifestyle choices, some medications, and illnesses can cause obesity. Obesity can lead to other health conditions, like heart disease, diabetes, sleep apnea, arthritis, and more.
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, "7 in 10 long-haul truck drivers are obese". Obesity is an issue for drivers due to its other complications, which can impair their driving ability and cost them their license.
Type 2 Diabetes
Type 2 Diabetes has been mentioned above as a complication of obesity; we wanted to cover this separately because, so often, there is a misconception that if you are thin, you will not get Type 2 Diabetes.
Type 2 Diabetes is a malfunction in how your body regulates and utilizes sugar leading to high blood sugar levels. Type 2 Diabetes is caused by either your body not producing enough insulin, your cells are not responding correctly to insulin, or a combination of both, which causes numerous other systems failures.
According to the CDC, "14% of truck drivers said they have diabetes compared to 7% of the US working population." Inactivity is one of the leading causes of diabetes. It can lead to nerve, hearing, eye, and kidney damage, among many other issues that affect a driver's ability to function in their profession and limits their quality of life.
According to the CDC, "Musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) are injuries or disorders of the muscles, nerves, tendons, joints, cartilage, and spinal discs. Work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSD) are conditions in which: The work environment and performance of work contribute significantly to the condition; and/or the condition is made worse or persists longer due to work conditions."
Research shows that long-haul drivers can be as much as 3.5 times more likely to have musculoskeletal issues than the general population, including office workers (the second most affected group). Poor posture when driving and the vibrations from their truck play a role in ensuring more issues for this occupational group.
The diseases listed here are just a few of the major health issues reported in the trucking industry. Other major issues, often linked to the four main topics listed here like non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, peripheral artery disease, poor circulation, deep vein thrombosis, stress, and depression, also affect your driver's health.
Health Issue Causes
The health issues drivers most commonly suffer from consist of a wide variety of illnesses, including but not limited to those discussed earlier in this article, all stem from the same cause, a sedentary lifestyle. While, by far, driving is not the only profession that sees conditions arise from a sedentary lifestyle, it is one of the hardest to institute small fixes that officer workers can initiate.
For example, it is recommended to aid in reducing the impacts of sedentary life by implementing the following: for every 20 minutes seated, take 8 minutes of standing and 2 minutes of moving. The American Heart Association recommends that each person complete 150 minutes of moderate activity that gets your heart pumping at least each week.
Being sedentary alone is not the only cause of driver health decline. The very nature of the trucks can cause damage to your driver's spine and joints. The vibrations felt while driving overtime wear on your joints and spine and cause muscles to become aggravated and increase fatigue. Long-term musculoskeletal issues develop due to poor sitting posture and the very vibrations caused by driving.
Knowing drivers' challenges can better prepare recruiters to understand objections they might encounter during the recruiting process. For companies, understanding these challenges and implementing programs to negate these issues will go a long way to improving retention and recruitment.
Our next article in this series will look at what programming options can be instituted by companies to address these issues and how recruiters can counter health concerns when recruiting new drivers.
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Debra Watkins covers recruitment and digital marketing for Lionzone. A Nashville native, after graduating from the University of Kentucky, Debra utilized her research and writing skills in the museum and heritage tourism fields, rising to director of two institutions, before returning to Nashville in 2020 to join Lionzone.