It’s not an easy gig being a truckie. Aside from the long hours of driving, the increased risk of road trauma, the weeks or months a year spent away from home and the pressure not to slip up even once in a vehicle that can quite easily kill people, truck drivers are also at higher than average risk of suffering from a range of physical and mental health conditions.
Physical injuries range from musculoskeletal issues (particularly lower back injuries), to strains and sprains, fractures and lacerations, sight and hearing problems, high falls, chemical exposure, crush injuries, road crashes – and everything in between. Truck drivers are also at a higher risk of circulatory disease, nutritional deficit and obesity, with negative health outcomes further compounded by smoking.
In terms of mental health, truck driving is a largely solo and therefore socially isolative occupation. Any form of isolation can have negative psychological consequences, so it is not surprising that truck drivers are at risk of becoming depressed over their many long hauls. Fatigue is an obvious issue, bringing with it sleep and mood disruptions due to the sustained release of stress hormones (like adrenalin) into the body, while there is evidence that truck drivers are more likely to be exposed to violence than the rest of us, which can lead to acute and post-traumatic anxiety conditions. It’s a heck of a list.
What all of this adds up to is that truck driving is one of the most dangerous jobs in the country. A large study by Monash University in 2015 found that truck drivers are a staggering 13 times more likely to die at work than other Australians. It’s hard to even comprehend levels of risk like that in real terms, let alone know what to do about it.
But ignoring and denying the problem is almost certain to make it worse.
Add in the hazards of COVID-19 (and threat of future communicable diseases), strong growth in the demand for freight but an acute shortage of drivers, and it becomes clear that professional heavy vehicle drivers, freight supervisors and companies are facing some pretty big challenges. While threat of supply chain disruption has been a major cause for concern lately, the COVID-19 pandemic has also proven that trucking is, beyond a doubt, an essential service.
Many within freight and logistics have known this for some time and many others have suspected it: but now everyone knows for sure. The phrase “Without Trucks Australia Stops” is no longer just a simple industry PR slogan – it is now an unassailable statement of fact.
That puts professional heavy vehicle drivers into the ranks of essential workers. Like nurses, doctors, paramedics, police, firefighters and so on; we simply cannot afford to do without them. Hopefully, we will remember this after the current crisis has abated.
At the end of 2019 there was talk of trucking job losses in the United States and speculation that a similar thing might happen in Australia. Now trucking is a critical service, populated by crucial workers, which needs to increase recruitment by about 150% to keep pace with demand.
But with so many barriers to recruitment, will the transport industry be able to find and retain the people needed to keep the country running?
And what can be done to keep truck drivers, the public and supply chains safe in the process?
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