9 Ways Truck Driving Puts Your Health at Risk
In 2020, the Bureau of Labor reported there were more than 1.9 million truck drivers employed in the U.S. Truck driving is an essential industry, helping stimulate the economy and move crucial supplies and products across the country. Drivers can see several parts of the country, making it great for people who want to explore different states and cities.
Truck driving is a unique position due to its heavy demands. Drivers have to cover vast distances in set time frames to make deliveries, which often results in lengthy hours, and many work longer weeks than most American workers because of extensive shifts. Many truck drivers work irregular hours or have flexible shifts because of changing weather conditions and hard delivery deadlines, making it difficult to develop regular sleep and exercise schedules.
Because of the unique challenges concerning this job position and industry, truck drivers face numerous health risks because of their daily habits. These include the following:
1. Obesity and Hypertension
Truck driving leads to a specific lifestyle. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends adults get at least 2.5 hours of intense exercise each week, but because drivers need to spend most of their time sitting behind the wheel, they often fall short of this quota.
Many truck stops lack spaces or paths where drivers can exercise or stretch their legs between trips, making it harder for them to take care of their bodies while on the road. Even if these truck stops do have spaces for truck drivers, they may lack proper lighting for individuals working at night.
Long hours on the road and jobs that bring them to unfamiliar areas often mean fast food restaurants are the best option for truck drivers. Since fast food allows drivers to get their meals quickly, they can get back on the road more efficiently. Many truck stops offer fast food selections and processed snacks in vending machines, providing few healthy options for truck drivers. There are few places where trucks can easily park that serve healthy alternatives for drivers.
Unhealthy eating habits combined with little exercise can lead to various health issues for truck drivers, including obesity, hypertension, diabetes and heart disease. While 31% of American employees struggle with obesity, that number rises to 69% for long-haul truck drivers. Of those individuals, 17% are morbidly obese, whereas only 7% of non-truckers fall in this category.
2. Musculoskeletal Injuries
Truck drivers can experience sore muscles because of long hours spent driving. While the lack of places for truck drivers to exercise can lead to obesity, it also keeps them from adequately moving and stretching their muscles, leading to more soreness and stiffness. Over time, muscles grow weaker without the proper exercise and face an increased risk of becoming sprained or strained.
With weaker muscles, drivers can more easily overexert their bodies. Muscle spasms, which are incredibly painful, become more common. Untreated or ignored musculoskeletal injuries can lead to permanent damage or soreness that is more difficult to treat down the road.
Sitting still for prolonged periods can also exacerbate other health conditions. When people sit in one position for too long, they risk forming blood clots, leading to strokes. Because truck drivers spend most of their day sitting in the same spot without the opportunity to stretch, they have a higher risk of having a stroke as a result.
3. Back and Neck Injuries
Truck cabins are small and allow little movement for drivers despite requiring long shifts spent sitting. Because drivers have little room to move around, they will often skip stretching, leading to stiff and sore muscles. Manufacturers don’t often design truck seats to help maintain perfect posture, so drivers may find themselves slouching into a more comfortable position, which can lead to more problems over time, like neck and back pain.
4. Extreme Fatigue and Sleep Apnea
Many drivers experience extreme fatigue while driving and sleep apnea while resting. Driving regulations ensure drivers do not overwork themselves, but they still allow long hours and few breaks. Requirements include that drivers only take a 30-minute break every 8 hours of driving, and drivers can work shifts up to 15 hours long — and extend that period if driving in adverse weather conditions.
Around one-third of all truck drivers suffer from sleep apnea because of long days on the road without proper stretching or exercise. This condition can occur due to throat muscles relaxing and blocking the airway during sleep or the brain failing to signal the muscles that control breathing. While the lack of oxygen poses its own risks, many people with sleep apnea still feel tired when they wake up, leading to more fatigue in truck drivers.
Because drivers are at risk for many health problems, they are often victims of fatigue cycles. Lack of proper rest can lead to serious health issues, like hypertension, diabetes, heart disease and obesity, but simultaneously, fatigue is a symptom and side effect of all those conditions. This makes it hard for drivers with fatigue to recover from existing health conditions or prevent them.
5. Higher Risks of Being in an Accident
Because they are on the road all day and night, truck drivers have a higher risk of accidents. Motor vehicle accidents cause 40% of work-related deaths. While highways and external conditions might be dangerous, other truck driving health risks can increase the chances of an accident.
Fatigue is one of the biggest causes of trucking accidents. Because of their long shifts, around one in 25 truck drivers fall asleep behind the wheel, creating dangerous circumstances for drivers and other motorists. Much of drivers’ extreme fatigue levels comes from untreated health issues, like sleep apnea or hypertension.
Maintaining good overall health is essential for reducing the risk of crashes. Drivers with more than three health conditions pose a higher risk of getting into an accident than others. Since health issues can cause extreme fatigue, truck drivers need to maintain their wellness to protect themselves and others on the road. Existing health conditions also add to the complications sustained in serious accidents, further increasing the risks to drivers who develop health problems on the job.
6. Increased Use of Stimulants
To help keep themselves awake and alert on long shifts and after nights of poor sleep, many drivers use stimulants, like cigarettes. Only 19% of Americans smoke, but that number rises to 51% for long-haul truckers. While smoking may help keep drivers awake on the road, it can lead to health problems and worsen other conditions.
Smoking increases the risk of lung cancer, heart disease and stroke. While these risks aren’t unique to truckers, the driving lifestyle already predisposes them to heart disease and strokes. Truck drivers are twice as likely to develop diabetes because of eating and exercise habits and as a side effect of obesity rates. Processed and fast foods cause 22% of truck drivers to take cholesterol medication.
7. Exposure to Hazardous Materials and Diesel Fumes
While smoking cigarettes is a lifestyle choice common with truck drivers, diesel and gasoline fumes are an unintentional risk that can also lead to lung cancer. Truck refueling or trucks with poor emissions may expose drivers to hazardous fumes that can damage lungs and impede breathing. Depending on what these workers are moving, they may also become exposed to other dangerous materials.
To help ensure trucking health while on the road, drivers should stay up to date with emissions tests and keep a steady airflow in the cabin to ensure they are breathing clean and safe air.
8. Depression and Loneliness
Long days on the road can severely affect truck drivers’ mental health. Many are alone on the road and spend long periods away from their family and friends, making it hard for them to connect and interact with people regularly. Continual isolation and loneliness can lead to depression, which is a serious disease that can lead to poor sleep, mood changes and suicidal thoughts or actions.
Many truck drivers are male, and men especially struggle with the stigma surrounding receiving mental health treatment, like therapy or anti-depressants. Around 6 million men each year experience symptoms of depression, but they are less likely to act on their symptoms, and others around them are less likely to notice. Men are four times more likely to commit suicide than women, and only 37.4% of men receive treatment for their mental health.
Other health conditions, including sleep apnea, can lead to depression. Since truck drivers are already at a higher risk of developing serious health disorders, they may also face an increased risk of developing depression as a symptom of another health problem.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a free, confidential service available to everyone. Drivers can use this number in moments of distress or crisis to receive help when they need it. The hotline is open 24/7 and has Spanish and chat functions to best accommodate user needs.
9. Low Prioritization of Health Care
Truck drivers tend to not prioritize receiving treatment for health conditions. Because they spend long periods on the road and away from family and friends, they value their time off and would rather spend it resting or with the people they care about than at a doctor’s office.
Many health problems truck drivers face have treatment plans. For symptoms like fatigue or headaches, which can fall under many diseases — including sleep apnea — truck drivers should especially seek regular medical attention to help maintain their health and bodies.
Frequent preventative screenings can help identify problems in their earlier stages, allowing you to receive treatment and prevent permanent damage or long-term problems. Health care professionals can test for common problems, like changes in blood sugar levels, rising blood pressure and sleep apnea so drivers can get the attention needed to stay safe and healthy on the job.
Treating health conditions can create safer working conditions for truck drivers. Because truckers with health conditions have a higher risk of getting into crashes, they can ensure safe delivery of their goods and return to their families when they receive treatments. Further, treatment for common problems like sleep apnea can prevent other health conditions many drivers face, like heart disease and hypertension.
Ways to Handle These Risks
Even though truck driving comes with risks, you can take extra preventative actions to best protect your mind and body from the effects of your time on the road. Whether it is implementing healthy habits and regularly seeing a health care professional or seeking financial compensation for work injuries, you can take steps to care for yourself while on the job.
Minimize Risks With Healthy Habits
Most professionals and health care workers recommend truckers implement two main habits into their lifestyles to improve their health on the road — healthy eating and regular exercise. Poor eating choices can lead to numerous health conditions, like obesity, diabetes, hypertension and heart disease. You can instead try to pack more fruits and vegetables for snacks or sides to get more nutrients while on the road, but you’ll also need to make an effort to cut fast, fried and processed foods.
Exercise can also help prevent many health conditions — and regular exercise can help reduce stress and improve sleep. Drivers who regularly exercise may experience less fatigue and better moods. When you exercise, you can better care for your muscles to keep them strong and release tension, and stretching can help ease any soreness. For those who suffer from sleep apnea, walking is a great way to disperse liquid buildup in the neck that disrupts sleep and tone your upper airway muscles.
While drivers can take individual actions to better improve their health, you should work with a health care professional to monitor your wellness and screen for common health problems. Nutritionists are great resources for people who need to improve their diet, exercise regimen and sleep schedule.
Receive Workers’ Compensation for Job-Related Health Problems
If you develop a serious health disorder due to your job conditions as a truck driver, you could receive workers’ compensation, whether it is an injury from cabin conditions and lack of movement or an ongoing illness from lack of opportunities to exercise and eat healthily.
The U.S. Department of Labor has three compensation programs drivers can receive for financial help, including:
- Medical payments compensation.
- Wage loss compensation.
- Rehab for vocational injuries.
Because you’re exposed to various serious health conditions as a truck driver, you can partner with a workers’ compensation litigation firm, such as Frommer D’Amico, to begin the process of receiving compensation for your conditions.
Contact Frommer D’Amico for Truck Driver Workers’ Compensation
Truck driving exposes many individuals to serious health risks and conditions, often due to the specific lifestyle and requirements of the job. However, you can receive help for medical costs and lost wages with workers’ compensation for truck drivers after developing health conditions or getting injured.
At Frommer D’Amico, our attorneys are workers’ compensation experts who can assist you at every step of the process. We are available whenever you need us, including on the weekends and during the evening. We will provide you with care personalized to fit your circumstances so you can receive the right services for your situation. As a Pennsylvania firm, we understand state workers’ compensation laws and can navigate state legislation throughout your case.
For individualized care regarding your workers’ compensation case, contact Frommer D’Amico today and discover how we can assist you with all your needs.