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Health and wellness challenges for truck drivers affect safety

While my law practice primarily involves representing individuals and families in injury and death claims caused by negligent trucking companies, I get a lot of calls from truck drivers. Some of them are bright, sophisticated people.

Last week I had a call from a truck driver who has a master’s degree from a nationally prominent university. Truck driving wasn’t the original career plan, but the market’s a little weak for liberal arts and social sciences degrees.

Our conversation wandered through several aspects of the trucking lifestyle. One thing we discussed was the difficulty of maintaining a sensible regimen of diet and exercise, a topic on which I recently wrote.

This trucker talked at length about the near impossibility of finding healthy food at truck stops, and the lack of safe places to get exercise at or near truck stops. The trucker commented on gaining 30 pounds in the first four months on the road.

In 2007, the Transportation Research Board published a lengthy report on Health and Wellness Programs for Commercial Drivers.

A common sense observation in the report is:

It is estimated that more than 50% of commercial drivers are regular smokers. Many are obese, lack proper physical exercise, tend to develop chronic diseases such as diabetes at relatively early ages, and may have slightly elevated suicide rates.

A few key points from the report are:

• What is needed is long-term is a cultural change, a paradigm shift in the transportation industry toward embracing integrated models of health, safety, and productivity management as being the joint and shared responsibility of individual drivers, their managers, and senior leadership of their organizations.

• Transportation companies interested in developing their own employee health and wellness programs are still very much in need of guidance and resources on “how to do it.” Better tools and off-the-shelf practices for translating knowledge into action are needed.

• Prominent in the practical experiences of carriers is the difficulty of making employee health and wellness program elements available to the drivers themselves-that is, how does one effectively reach and obtain driver involvement, especially when drivers are so mobile because of their day-to-day working environment and their quick turnover rates in employment?

• Commercial driver advocate groups (e.g., FMCSA, ATA, NPTC, ATRI, the ABA, UMA, and others) each have important roles to play in helping bring about the needed culture change toward employee (driver) health and wellness programs.

• Screening for deficits in specific visual, mental, and physical abilities that significantly predict at-fault crashes can be practically carried out in an office environment. With the aging of the work force, such practices will have increasing value for industry and highway safety.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is attempting to address this problem with reforms of regulations on medical certification of drivers. But truck drivers’ lifestyle, diet and exercise, remain huge challenges.

It’s a long report with a lot of detail. I commend it to professional truck drivers and safety managers.

Ken Shigley is an interstate trucking trial attorney in Atlanta, Georgia. He is a Certified Civil Trial Advocate of the National Board of Trial Advocacy, and has been listed as a “Super Lawyer” (Atlanta Magazine), among the “Legal Elite” (Georgia Trend Magazine), and in the Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers. He served as chair of the Southeastern Motor Carrier Litigation Institute, is on the National Advisory Board for the Association of Interstate Trucking Lawyers of America, and is a frequent speaker at continuing legal education programs for the Interstate Trucking Litigation Group of the American Association for Justice. Mr. Shigley has extensive experience representing parties in trucking and bus accidents, products liability, catastrophic personal injury, wrongful death, spinal cord injury, brain injury and burn injury cases. Currently he is Secretary of the 40,000 member State Bar of Georgia.This post is subject to our ethical disclaimer.