Truck driving is one of the most dangerous occupations in Canada, according to numerous studies. The same is true in the United States. This is probably is not a surprise to anyone involved in the industry. In addition to driving accidents, truckers are also at high risk for equipment-related injuries and ergonomic injuries. Long hours on the road and the sedentary nature of trucking work also put truckers at a much higher risk for many lifestyle-related diseases and injuries.

However, recognizing these hazards and minimizing the risk for commercial and long-haul drivers can help keep them safe. Here are a few of those hazards that impact truck drivers and tips on how they can be mitigated and even eliminated.

1. Driving Accidents

Every year almost 2,000 Canadians are killed and another 10,000 are seriously injured in collisions involving a heavy truck. In fact, large trucks have a fatality rate that is double the rate for other vehicles. These statistics make it clear that both drivers and the public are at risk if companies and truckers fail to address safety risks for truckers.

To help prevent accidents, start with training your drivers in defensive driving techniques and, more importantly, insist they use this knowledge. These techniques should include:

  • Maintaining a safe speed
  • Avoiding distractions
  • Keeping a safe following distance
  • Being aware of your surroundings
  • Preparing for emergencies
  • Responding appropriately to weather conditions
  • Scanning intersections before entering
  • Avoiding backing up, whenever possible

In addition to these techniques, train drivers to avoid exhibiting or falling victim to road rage. Road rage is a major cause of vehicle accidents for both truckers and other drivers. Also, as an employer, you must insist that drivers strictly follow legislation regarding driving and rest times. A tired driver makes mistakes, and an error with a loaded semi-truck can be fatal.

Vehicle equipment failures can also put drivers at risk for injury and cause up to 10% of crashes, according to a study by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

The trucking equipment most likely to fail before an accident includes brakes, tires, steering, suspension and the underride bar, which can prevent smaller vehicles from sliding under a transport truck in the event of a rear-end crash.

Another way to mitigate equipment failure risk is to institute regular preventative maintenance and to encourage your drivers to report issues when they find them. Consider adding telematics devices to your fleet to provide advance warning of impending equipment failure and to ensure your drivers are using their equipment correctly.

In addition to the truck itself, drivers can also be put at risk when coupling and uncoupling their trailers. Provide training on safety techniques for the specific vehicle the trucker will be using. Drivers should also be trained on how to secure and check loads. Unsecured loads can cause a truck to swerve or be more challenging to control.

3. Ergonomic Injuries

Driving is primarily a sedentary job, and it puts truckers at risk for several types of ergonomic injuries. Sitting puts stress on the lower back in particular, but truckers are especially susceptible to strains and sprains in the arms, neck or back. Sitting for long periods of time can also cause fatigue which, in itself, puts drivers at risk. Truckers should be encouraged to get out of their trucks regularly for rest breaks in order to walk around, loosen their joints, and get some physical activity. This helps prevent ergonomic injury, and can also stave off fatigue.

As awareness of ergonomic issues related to trucking has increased, the number of available ergonomic options within trucks has also increased. Adjustable, ergonomically friendly driver’s seats tailored for specific body shapes and heights can help. Other options such as tilting and telescoping steering wheels and oversized mirrors and windows that help increase visibility and reduce straining will also reduce ergonomic injury.

Since many drivers are also responsible for the loads they are carrying in their truck, they should receive training on proper lifting techniques as well. They should also be provided with equipment to aid them in loading or unloading their vehicles to avoid stress and strain-related injuries. While driving, UV blocking sunglasses can help reduce eye strain and the resulting physical disabilities that can cause.

Compared to other occupations, truck drivers have a much higher chance of developing chronic diseases and health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and certain cancers. Additionally, a recent NIOSH study also found that long haul drivers were twice as likely as the rest of the population to be obese, increasing their health risk. Truckers are often prone to many sleep disorders, including sleep apnea, which puts them at further risk of developing many serious diseases. It also makes it more likely they’ll be involved in accidents. The stress and fatigue of long-haul driving can exacerbate many of these issues.

There are things that can be done to mitigate these lifestyle-related risks. Regular screenings for illnesses such as sleep apnea can help, as can consistent health monitoring. Although commercial truck drivers are required to get a medical checkup every two years, additional health monitoring at the company level will ensure you catch issues before they become serious. Many companies currently screen their truckers for sleep apnea regularly, for example. Flexible schedules can also make a difference allowing drivers to get enough rest while they’re on the road and off.

Training and practices should focus on healthy lifestyle components, including how to maintain a healthy diet while on the road and exercising at least 150 minutes each week.

Keep an eye on the hazards — and keep your drivers safe

Driving can be a dangerous business for truckers. However, there is a lot that companies and truckers can do to eliminate and mitigate their risks. By keeping an eye on some of the common hazards, you can help make the road as safe a place as possible for the drivers in your organization's fleet.