Tractor-trailer accidents have risen 20 percent over the past 30 years, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
The reason might be the number of trucks and miles driven have doubled since 1977, says the NHTSA.
Health of Truckers May Be SuspectResearchers aren’t pointing to sleep deprivation as much as the physical health of the driver. Reuters News Service said heart disease and diabetes are culprits, given the sedentary nature of sitting 12 hours a day.
Toni Alterman, senior research epidemiologist for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) said, “Truck drivers die more frequently from prostate cancer, lung cancer, stomach and bladder cancer.” This fact has prompted NIOSH to conduct comprehensive studies comparing truck drivers' death rates from specific diseases to those of the general population.
Personal Trainer: Regular Exercise Is ImperativeDonna Seeker, personal trainer with the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA), said people need to be mindful of health issues resulting from sitting. “If a person doesn’t incorporate a physical workout into their schedule three to five times a week, they will most likely suffer lower back, neck and/or leg pain,” she said.
Seeker said without routine exercise, a truck driver will most likely accumulate fat in the abdominal area, which in turn stresses back muscles. “Even if a person is lean, the hip flexors will tighten from so much sitting which stresses back muscles,” the ISAA trainer said. “Beyond the absence of stomach fat, a person needs strong abdominal muscles to support the back to avoid back pain.”
Another problem resulting from prolonged sitting is neck pain caused by poor posture, she said. ”The tendency is to bring our shoulders forward, whether we’re sitting behind the wheel or in front of a computer,” Seeker said. “This bad habit weakens shoulder and neck muscles while tightening others, causing an imbalance which results in pain.”
Seeker said leg muscles typically are strong due to everyday walking but with so much sitting, the hamstring muscles (back of thigh) and quadriceps muscles (front of thigh) weaken. The hamstrings help support the back and the quadriceps protect the knees, so both muscle groups are important for good health.
The trainer, who personally works out 3-4 times a week, advises that truck drivers or others sedentary should walk at least twice daily, fast enough to raise the heart rate, which is about 20 minutes. “Cardiovascular exercise is essential for burning fat, but has to be combined with weight training,” Seeker said. “Having more muscle than fat raises your metabolic rate and also keeps bones strong with age. Because many people do not know the proper form to employ during exercise, it’s recommended they work with a trainer to get a fitness routine established.”
Driving May Be Hazardous to HealthAccording to the International Labor Organization (ILO), drivers typically are exposed to accidental, physical, chemical, biological and ergonomic hazards.
Physical hazards include hernia rupture due to physical exertion of loading cargo or changing a tire and exposure to ionizing radiation while transporting radioisotopes (frequently kept, for security reasons, inside the cabin). Drivers are exposed to constant high-amplification engine noise resulting in diminished hearing. Drivers also are exposed to sun’s ultraviolet rays. Digestive tract disorders can result from irregular eating and lack of cardiovascular activity. Whole-body vibrations may impair functions of chest and abdominal organs as well as the musculoskeletal system, specifically the lumbar area of the spine and other bone joints, the ILO web site reports.
Chemical hazards include inhalation of dust, carbon monoxide from diesel fumes, nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons. Infection may manifest from contact with liquid/ gaseous hazardous materials. Dermatitis, eczema and burns could result from contact with engine oil, anti-freeze, brake fluid, transmission fluid, battery acid or scalding engine parts.
In 1999 a bus driver lost consciousness and drove off a highway near New Orleans. All 22 passengers were killed. The operator suffered from congestive heart failure, kidney problems and high blood pressure. An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said the driver's medical condition contributed to the accident. His poor health had eluded authorities, despite the driver being hospitalized 10 times in two years before the fatal accident.
NTSB Pushes for Thorough Medical Check-upsThe NTSB then urged the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to establish stricter medical exams for bus and truck drivers. It also sought to link the health certification more closely with driver licensing. But eight years later, flaws remain. "It's painfully slow," said Paul Schlamm, NTSB spokesman. "They're not even doing what we want."
However, FMCSA spokesman Dwayne DeBruyne said until August 2005, when Congress gave it the authority to act, his agency was powerless. "I think we've been in high gear since then," he said. A final rule linking the medical certification to the issuance of commercial driver's license is expected this year, DeBruyne said. But other key recommendations from the NTSB, including establishing a medical review board and establishing a national registry of medical examiners have gone nowhere, according to Reuters.
The American Trucking Association (ATA) insists it backs a comprehensive medical program. It says the FMCSA's approach to link health exams with the driver's license process is flawed. "Doing that first is putting the cart before the horse," says Dave Osiecki, ATA's vice president of safety and security. He said the training, certification and registration program for examiners should be a priority.