How to Combat the Silent Killer Targeting Truck Drivers

By Haley Bass | 04/10/2017

Truck driving is one of the deadliest jobs in America, recording more fatal injuries last year than any other occupation. But time on the road, varying road conditions, distracted drivers, and unpredictable weather aren’t the only evils drivers have to battle. There is another killer on the rise that is targeting truck drivers; one that lurks around corners and sneaks into the cabs, posing a serious threat to life of drivers.

This seductive killer tends to attack a driver’s heart, with little warning. It takes various forms and can appear in just about any place. Without proper protection, nearly any driver is at risk to falling victim. Today, more drivers are becoming victims of…chronic disease.

Chronic diseases, like heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis make up 7 of the 10 leading causes of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Chronic disease can contribute to a higher risk of a driver getting hurt or sick on the job. A study by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found that drivers with three or more chronic conditions have an extreme risk of being involved in an accident. Results showed that drivers with multiple conditions had a crash frequency of 93 incidents per million miles, compared to 29 per million miles for all drivers.

While many chronic diseases can creep up unnoticed, there are some warning signs that drivers should watch before they become the next victim. Elements such as high cholesterol, smoking, limited physical activity are all warning signs that a driver is prone to a chronic disease.

When the average cost of an accident can cost around $300,000 (and fatal crashes can cost around $7 million), having accident-prone drivers on the road is too big a risk. For employers, it’s more cost-effective to provide preventive care and wellness services than to manage the high costs of crashes and work-related injuries. Wellness services can address these risks and improve general health. Investing in drivers’ health and well-being can also increase retention rates, improve productivity, and reduce overall healthcare costs.

Here are some factors to consider when developing a wellness program for your truck drivers:

When you teach a man to fish…or eat a balanced meal

When it comes to wellness, education is key. Don’t assume that everyone knows how to make a nutritious meal or the risks of inactivity. Provide your drivers with pamphlets, classes, or videos that explain the benefits of healthy eating and exercise.

There aren’t a lot of healthy food options on the road, so education might include helping drivers scout out healthier stops in advance or giving a list of easy, healthy snacks to pack. Consider buying coolers for your drivers so they can keep fresh fruits, vegetables, and proteins in the truck.

Since their job requires sitting for several hours at a time with limited breaks, it’s important for drivers to make the most of their down time by exercising and stretching. Give drivers a list of easy exercises and stretches to do at a rest stop. Have a trainer come to the main office to teach exercises and stretches so drivers can take those ideas on the road.

It’s also important to provide them with information on the dangers of chronic disease and the risk factors that lead to chronic diseases. Make sure to give drivers resources that can help them prevent or manage these conditions.

Communication, community, and commitment

These three C’s are what makes a wellness program work, especially with a group that’s widespread and has unusual hours.

First, you need to develop a communication strategy. Posting flyers in the main office breakroom isn’t going to be effective for most your drivers. Consider how they get information – should managers start a group text with their drivers (just make sure drivers don’t get on their phones while driving!), or would a monthly newsletter or email be effective? Think about who they’d like to get health information from – an executive, manager, coworker, or health coach. Your communication plan should be as unique as your workforce.

Accountability is one of the most important elements for health success, so creating a community for your drivers to connect and encourage each other might be the push some of them need. You can set up a Facebook group, a text chat, a weekly group meeting for anyone in town, or a combination of different methods. Having a way to share ideas, challenges, and encouragement will help boost involvement in the wellness program and improve success rates.

Company commitment to wellness needs to come from the top down. Sending out a newsletter and setting up a Facebook group work only if people are reading them and participating—and the best way to drive this engagement is to lead by example. When drivers see their managers and employers taking the wellness program seriously – asking questions on Facebook, sharing their own stories in newsletters, engaging with coworkers – they are much more likely to get involved. Providing incentives and resources (the whole “actions speak louder than words” piece) are also motivating factors.

What do you need?

Ask your drivers this question. It doesn’t matter how many resources, classes, and incentives you offer if it’s not what they want. Find out what your drivers are looking for in a wellness program by sending out surveys or using an anonymous suggestion box (physical or online) as a place for drivers to let you know what they’d want out of a wellness program. They might have ideas you didn’t consider, like a smoking cessation program or discounted gym memberships, or, maybe a lot of your drivers don’t know how to cook a healthy meal and would enjoy some cooking classes. You won’t know if you don’t ask.

If you’re concerned your drivers may fall prey to this killer or want more information on how to protect against this growing threat, talk to one of our work health experts.