Every job comes with its occupational hazards, but only a few really hold a candle to the element of danger that truck driving entails.
Significant efforts have already been dedicated to determining what are the dangers of being a truck driver, along with what preventive measures can be implemented to potentially lower these risks.
Curiously, though, even amidst the development of interstate highway systems, giant leaps in communication and navigation equipment, and major advancements in weather forecasting, truck driving continues to be one of the most dangerous professions.
That is especially now, as the novel coronavirus pandemic continues to sweep across the globe.
What Are the Dangers of Being a Truck Driver?
There are a lot of risks that come with truck driving, including:
1. Increased Disease Exposure and Transmission
While it provides comfort and familiarity, the cab of one’s truck is not enough to protect the driver from the risks of driving extended distances, and most of all, from COVID-19.
According to the Centers for Control and Prevention, potential contamination comes from being in contact with other workers in the industry. These include truck store attendants, dock workers, and other drivers.
Research further suggests that one of the main cruxes are asymptomatic people who, unaware of their condition, neglect following preventive measures like wearing face masks and social distancing.
Another factor that you must prevent is being the disease carrier yourself, putting both colleagues and civilians at risk with every stop.
Flattening the Curve
Fortunately, there are some ways for drivers to protect themselves from the disease and lower the risk of transmission.
Some of them are:
- Refer to your employer for the company’s risk management steps, particularly on what to do should you get sick on the road.
- Practice social distancing and avoid close contact with other people. Avoid shaking hands.
- Limit the time spent outside the cab, especially during stops. Utilize your radio or phone to communicate with other people as much as possible.
- Regarding transactions, paperless and digital invoicing are preferable.
- Various testing sites are available across the country if you suspect possible contamination.
- Call 911 for further assistance and to ready first responders for your arrival. You will then be advised of the preferable steps if test results do turn out positive: whether it would be advisable for you to seek immediate medical attention, go home, or practice self-isolation on your own.
2. Sleep Apnea
COVID-19 and other infectious diseases are not the only health risks that truck drivers face. Even more problematic is obstructive sleep apnea or OSA, pandemic, or not.
Completing eight hours of sleep is ideal before any long drive. However, untreated sleep disorders can disrupt one’s sleep quality and length, leading to excessive daytime sleepiness and fatigue.
Further proving the point is the study shared by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
The results concluded that drivers who have sleep apnea were almost thrice as likely to be at risk of causing a motor vehicle accident than those who are not suffering from it.
Fortunately, the journal Industrial Health poses the solution. Screening and identifying drivers with OSA and eventually helping them manage this sleeping disorder and get it treated will drastically lower the number of crash-related injuries and fatalities.
Understanding Sleep Apnea
Regrettably, sleep apnea is a prevalent issue here in the USA. There are different types of sleep apnea, but the most common is OSA caused by the blockage of the upper airway during sleep leading to the disruption of one’s normal breathing.
Loud and frequent snoring is one of the primary indicators of OSA. The challenge, though, is to determine whether one is simply snoring or already developing the symptom of a more chronic severe sleeping condition.
The best way to find out is by going through adequate screening procedures.
Causes of Obstructive Sleep Apnea
For now, let us talk about the factors that can cause OSA.
Leading a sedentary lifestyle is a huge culprit, but so are unhealthy habits like excessive drinking and smoking.
Obesity and certain medical conditions, such as endocrine and neuromuscular disorders, can also cause and further aggravate the issue.
Other risk factors include age, genetics, ethnicity, and sex.
There are three popular screening options, and they are:
The easiest but non-conclusive method of determining whether you are suffering from OSA is to complete an online sleep test.
According to the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, there are self-assessment tools that you can complete anonymously.
These are based on the Berlin Sleep Questionnaire.
An increasingly popular diagnostic method is the Home Sleep Apnea Test or HSAT.
It requires the use of a device that records the oxygen saturation levels, breathing and pulse rate while asleep.
It can be taken at home or even on the road then simply sent back to the lab for analysis.
There are a lot of drivers who prefer this method because of its affordability and convenience.
Surprisingly, the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine concluded that the derived data from these tests compare well with in-lab results.
- In-Lab Screening
Finally, the Department of Transportation’s medical examiners can also refer drivers to overnight sleep laboratories.
This is especially true for more severe cases that need a more in-depth diagnosis.
How Does OSA Affect One’s Commercial Driver’s License Application?
Directly quoting the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations:
“No driver shall operate a commercial motor vehicle, and a motor carrier shall not require or permit a driver to operate a commercial motor vehicle, while the driver’s ability or alertness is so impaired, or so likely to become impaired, through fatigue, illness, or any other cause, as to make it unsafe for him/her to begin or continue to operate the commercial motor vehicle.”
Thus, stricter sleep apnea diagnostics methods are now being conducted in line with this regulation.
It is important to note that at the time of writing this article, the Medical Review Board is only providing recommendations following their sleep apnea screening protocols.
As such, they are not legally binding. They do have the discretion to require further testing and treatment before issuing a medical certification.
The bottom line is, it is the responsibility of both the employer and the driver to keep roads safe.
Possible Treatments for Truck Drivers
The doctor or sleep expert can recommend a number of OSA management methods and treatments depending on one’s test results and case severity.
Those who suffer from mild snoring can choose from a wide variety of products to help deal with the issue.
Healthy lifestyle changes like increased physical activity and smarter meal choices can also help manage sleep apnea.
Moderate to severe cases might require breathing devices, like the continuous positive airway pressure (or CPAP) machine, that ensure airways remain open by delivering constant air pressure.
Usually, as a last resort, there are also surgical procedures available for really severe cases.
3. Lack of Adequate Truck Parking
Here’s a non-health-related risk: inadequate truck parking.
The Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries reveals that dozens of truck drivers are slain as an indirect result of inadequate parking spaces.
It is not surprising. Seasoned truck drivers know all too well that the lack of a decent parking spot can force one to continue driving or to risk stopping at unsafe locations.
As mentioned, pausing momentarily for a quick nap or a long night’s sleep is critical to a safe journey.
Thus, it is understandable why some drivers would rather park their rigs at the shoulders of roads or vacant lots. This then exposes them to looting, theft, violence, and even death.
So what prevents us, then, from building more parking spaces?
One of the main hurdles that prevent companies from providing additional parking spaces for their drivers is city ordinances.
Many communities have banned truck parking lots from being built, citing civilian complaints, road maintenance, and other reasons.
At the time of writing, various trucking organizations are still pushing for cities to adjust their zoning laws to build more parking locations.
Truck drivers must remain creative and vigilant for now to minimize parking-related risks.
4. Changing of Seasons
Another factor that exposes truck drivers to certain road hazards is the seasons.
The hazards that the inclement weather of winter brings are obvious: lack of visibility and slippery roads.
A lot of seasoned truck drivers have the same story of braving the roads during or immediately after a storm, taking advantage of the open roads to meet their scheduled arrivals.
Some of them can even attest that slippery roads are safer than the congested highways of summer.
Competing with swerving minivans and SUVs are simply beyond the maneuverability of slower, bigger, and heavier trucks.
Sadly, despite improved traffic regulations, collisions still happen at an alarming rate, and we can indirectly blame the digital age for that.
Easier car loan applications have resulted in an increase in vehicles. The presence of portable digital devices like smartphones and tablets have also added unnecessary distractions.
There are even studies that point toward popular culture and specific genres of music that induce driver aggression.
Apparently, energetic music can boost excitement and decrease one’s lateral control and focus.
5. Higher Turnovers
It is no secret that the trucking industry suffers from a high turnover rate. The risks that come with the profession are high, and the returns are often limited.
There is always a vacancy for a budding truck driver to fill out. As a consequence, newcomers to the industry frequently undergo inadequate training.
Lack of experience is a safety risk in itself, but sadly, most beginners are forced to gain this experience, on the road, by themselves.
How to Reduce High Turnovers in the Fleet
If only companies are willing, there are viable solutions to reduce the high turnover rates of the aging truck driving workforce.
- Adequate Compensation
Let’s face it; salary is a huge factor to encourage people to stay in a profession as risky as truck driving.
While experience-based compensation will entice seasoned drivers to join a fleet, bonuses for excellent driving and behavior will motivate stellar drivers to stay in one.
There is a raw need for people to be a part of something bigger than themselves.
A company that shares its vision to its employees, stating how each of them is an essential brick in reaching a goal together, as a family, will impact any of their driver’s motivation, even if they struggle alone on the highway at night.
- Excellent Training
Drawing into a full circle, the best solution to reduce high turnover rates still boils down to intensive training.
We understand the resources that go into employee training and how hard it is to impart one’s trust to a new applicant.
However, this will also better equip your new driver, which will ultimately lead to higher confidence, competence, and overall better driving experience, factors that support a truck driver’s job satisfaction.
The Dangers of the Road
Being a truck driver is a rewarding job that allows one to travel and serve an essential role in the country’s economy.
As with any other form of employment, it also comes with its own set of occupational hazards.
So what are the dangers of being a truck driver? There are a lot of different dangers that truck drivers can face on the road.
COVID-19 is proof that truck drivers are constantly exposed to high-risk areas even now as you’re reading this article.
The lack of high-quality sleep and the prevalence of drivers suffering from a gamut of sleep disorders are also pressing issues that the Department of Transportation is still struggling to address.
As if health risks are not enough, truck drivers must also struggle against city ordinances that result in the lack of safe parking spaces for them to rest in, exposing them to theft and violence.
The hazards of dark and slippery roads during the winter and increased vehicular traffic during the summer must also be accounted for, along with labor issues and inadequate training.
Yes, the life of a truck driver certainly isn’t easy. Fortunately, concrete steps are being done to build a better future for the members of the fleet.