Australian truck drivers’ physical and mental health

The negative health consequences of truck driving are well documented. However, despite the distinct occupational challenges between long- and short-haul driving, limited research has been conducted on how the health profile of these drivers differ.

Researchers from Monash University’s School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, sought to characterise the physical and mental health of Australian truck drivers overall, and to identify any differences between long-haul and short-haul drivers.

1390 Australian truck drivers completed an online survey between August 2019 and May 2020. The survey included questions on psychological distress, general health, work ability and health-related quality-of-life. Participants driving 500 km or more per day were categorised as long-haul and those driving less than 500 km as short-haul.

The researchers found:

  • The majority of survey respondents were either overweight (25.2 per cent) or obese (54.3 per cent).
  • Three in ten reported three or more chronic health conditions (29.5 per cent) and poor general health (29.9 per cent).
  • The most commonly diagnosed conditions were back problems (34.5  per cent), high blood pressure (25.8 per cent) and mental health problems (19.4 per cent).
  • Chronic pain was reported by 44 per cent of drivers.
  • 50.0 per cent reported low levels of psychological distress, whereas 13.3 and 36.7 per cent experienced severe or moderate level of psychological distress respectively.

There were a small number of differences between the health of long and short-haul drivers. A higher proportion of short-haul drivers reported severe psychological distress compared to long-haul drivers. Long-haul drivers were more likely to be obese and report pain lasting over a year.

In conclusion: Australian truck drivers report a high prevalence of multiple physical and mental health problems. The researchers recommended strategies focused on improving diet, exercise and preventing chronic conditions and psychological distress, that can also be implemented in the trucking occupational environment are needed to help improve driver health. Further research is needed to explore risk and protective factors that specifically affect health in both short-haul and long-haul drivers. 
Read more: van Vreden et al. The physical and mental health of Australian truck drivers: a national cross-sectional study [Full article] BMC Public Health, vol. 22, no. 1. 2022

Canada: Firms ignoring safety of new recruits 
Almost 20 per cent of Canadian businesses do not offer the safety and orientation programmes that are legally required for new workers in much of the country, a survey has found. The research, commissioned by Threads of Life, a group that advocates for workplace safety, questioned hiring managers at 545 companies. Of these, 102 said their companies offer no orientation, onboarding, safety, emergency, hazard or illness and injury protocol training. Eric Tucker, a labour law professor at York University's Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, said for companies to admit openly that they don't offer training that's mandated by legislation shows there is “widespread lawbreaking” taking place. Read more: CBC News. Source: Risks 1042

USA: Staff and residents safer in unionised nursing homes  
The substantial safety effect of unions has been confirmed in a study of COVID-19 infections in US nursing homes. The research, published in Health Affairs, examined whether unions for nursing home staff were associated with lower resident COVID-19 mortality rates and worker COVID-19 infection rates compared with rates in non-union nursing homes.

A research team led by Adam Dean of George Washington University found that "unions were associated with 10.8 per cent lower resident COVID-19 mortality rates, as well as 6.8 per cent lower worker COVID-19infection rates".  They conclude: "With more than 75,000 COVID-19 deaths among residents in non-unionised nursing homes during our study period, our results suggest that industry-wide unionisation would have been associated with approximately 8,000 fewer resident deaths." 

The findings are not surprising for those of us who work in union health and safety. While the US system differs from ours a great deal, one thing that can be counted on is that unions all over the world provide assistance and advice to their members, and particularly in OHS, the hazards faced at work and what can/should be done to minimise these hazards and risks. Unionised workplaces are safer workplaces. 
Read more: Adam Dean, et al, Resident Mortality And Worker Infection Rates From COVID-19 Lower In Union Than Nonunion US Nursing Homes, 2020–21, [AbstractHealth Affairs, Published online ahead of print, 20 April 2022. Unionized Nursing Homes Literally Saved Lives at the Pandemic’s Height Jacobin magazine. More on the union safety effect. Source: Risks 1042

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