Trucking and workplace safety

Trucking is vital to the U.S. and world economies, but it can also be a dangerous venture for drivers. We’re covering some of the common safety issues trucking businesses and employees face as well as safety measures to implement.

Trucking makes the world go round

Trucking, along with the transportation industry as a whole, is a vital part of the U.S. economy. With a workforce estimated at nearly eight million people, including truck drivers and non-driving trucking employees, this industry contributes almost nine percent to the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP). 

The essential nature of trucking and transportation can’t be overstated. The world as we know it would come to a grinding halt in a matter of days if every truck in America were to stop running. With this much at stake, minimizing risk and increasing safety within the industry is a large priority for everyone involved.

Trucking is a dangerous job

The trucking industry combines a large number of people with a large volume of work and heavy machinery, so it’s no wonder safety is a major concern. Trucking is known to be one of the most dangerous jobs, as outlined in the 2016 Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Trucking came in at number seven for the most dangerous jobs with 24.7 deaths per 100,000 workers reported. 

On top of deaths, there are non-fatal injuries that occur at rates between 233 per 10,000 and 262.1 per 10,000 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Given the inherently risky nature of both short-haul and long-haul trucking, safety should be on the minds of everyone who touches the transportation industry.

Trucking safety depends on everyone across the supply chain

It’s easy to think that truck drivers are primarily responsible for safety in trucking. The truck driver is the iconic face of the industry and the one we all see on the roads on a daily basis. In reality, safety in the transportation industry requires the attention and cooperation of every worker involved in all parts of the process. From dispatchers and mechanics to those who load and unload cargo, each employee needs to ensure their own safety as well as the safety of others. 

Safety in the transportation industry starts when cargo is loaded into trucks for shipment. Knowing the correct way to load for both short and long-haul transport is crucial for trucking safety.

One fault in loading can prove to be a dangerous mistake for drivers on the road. It isn’t unusual for packages to shift in trucks during transportation if contents aren’t carefully secured. These shifts put unnecessary strain on trucks. If a truckload of goods is improperly loaded, the imbalance can lead to serious accidents when trucks overturn, jackknife, or experience “trailer swing”. These issues present even greater threats to truck drivers and the general public if the cargo includes hazardous materials. By ensuring proper cargo loading, the trucking employees who are responsible for these jobs can reduce many trucking safety risks.

Injuries and medical conditions in trucking employees

On top of moving vehicular accidents, truckers experience higher rates of occupational injuries and medical issues associated with sedentary jobs. While some conditions are correlated with long hours behind the wheel and repetitive motions often required of truckers, many accidents and injuries can also be tied to a disregard for safety protocols. Whatever the cause, medical and safety issues affecting truckers also impact the public they share the roads with, which makes them a public health issue along with an occupational hazard.

Common trucking injuries

According to OSHA’s information on the trucking industry, strains and sprains make up 50 percent of truck drivers’ injuries. Other common injuries include bruises, fractures, cuts and lacerations, soreness and pain, and other traumatic injuries. Truckers may also experience issues like chronic exhaustion related to long hours in the driver’s seat, and pain and stiffness from sitting in the same position and being jarred by their vehicle. Repetitive motion injuries are also common for truckers who have to climb in and out of their cabs and hook/unhook chains and hoses.

Common trucking medical conditions

In addition to workplace-related injuries, truck drivers have significantly higher instances of chronic medical conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, and others influenced by long hours, a stressful environment, and lack of physical activity. 

Each of these conditions presents safety concerns on several levels: 

  • Drivers with unregulated blood pressure or blood sugar can cause accidents due to medical emergencies, like a heart attack or stroke
  • Drivers in poor health will cost transportation companies more in health care
  • Unhealthy truck drivers may have to end their careers early, further exacerbating the trucking industry’s driver shortage

For these reasons and more, it’s vital for trucking companies to focus on the health and safety of their employees and encourage staff to do the same. Not least of all, transportation companies can reduce their workers’ comp insurance premiums by focusing on worker health and safety

Trucking safety concerns from lax safety protocols

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) researched known safety concerns in the trucking industry and found that most incidents went hand-in-hand with rushing to finish the job and disregarding basic safety protocols. Some of the most alarming safety-related findings include: 

  • Seventy-three percent of truck drivers reported feeling their deadlines were too tight and unrealistic, encouraging them to drive recklessly or sacrifice sleep and other aspects of their health to meet deadlines
  • Seatbelt use is not universal among truck drivers. Fourteen percent of drivers claim to sometimes, or never, use their seatbelt 
  • Twenty-four percent of truck drivers drive in bad weather and while significantly tired
  • Around one-third of drivers have at least one crash in their trucking career, with more than that stating they received inadequate training for their job as drivers

These statistics are alarming, and shine a light on how important it is for trucking and transportation companies to maintain strict health and safety protocols for all employees.

Improving safety in the trucking industry

Many of the safety issues facing the trucking industry can be traced back to the intense pressure to deliver goods on time. Unrealistic deadlines hurt everyone from the truck drivers to other drivers on the road with them. It also hurts the bottom line of trucking companies that have to pay out more in workers’ compensation insurance premiums. 

Trucking companies can increase workplace safety within the transportation industry by adopting better practices, such as: 

  • Standardizing training for truck drivers and dock workers to ensure everyone is aware of weight limits and the right way to load a truck with cargo
  • Creating realistic delivery schedules that allow drivers time for sufficient rest, meals, and exercise
  • Promoting defensive driving techniques among drivers to help avoid accidents on the road
  • Focusing on preventive maintenance and frequent vehicle inspections to reduce the likelihood of mechanical failure
  • Training drivers to focus on the road without distractions
  • Providing solutions to support truck drivers in case of bad traffic and hazardous weather
  • Incentivizing drivers to practice safe driving and better health habits 

Truck drivers and other transportation and logistics workers are essential to getting products around the U.S. and around the world. Good business and good safety practices shouldn’t be in competition with one another. By emphasizing safety, and better care of drivers, trucking companies can reduce costs, especially costs related to occupational injuries and workers’ comp insurance premiums. 

Thanks for reading! Please note that this content is intended for educational purposes only. As best practices change regularly, you should refer to your trusted advisor for specific counsel. If you’re a small business owner, learn more about workplace safety or check your workers’ comp rate in 3 minutes.

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