Ever considered your health and fitness to be a “road hazard”?
Compiled by Annalise Kempen
A lot is being said and written about vehicle fitness and road-worthiness, but what about your own fitness to drive a vehicle? Are you mentally and physically up for the challenge of driving in rush-hour traffic amidst lunatics, slogs, inexperienced and even illegal drivers? If you are a long-distance driver who has to concentrate for hours on end or an emergency worker who has no choice but to rush to scenes, the impact on your health may be even worse.
When we think about driver fitness, the typical aspects that come to mind are that a driver must be able to see properly, and that she or he must not be tired or under the influence of alcohol or another intoxicating substance. But what about physical fitness? I am sure that if our physical fitness was a prerequisite for driver fitness, the vast majority of drivers would fail the test. Yet, Arrive Alive mentions that the physical fitness of a driver is often overlooked. In this sense, physical fitness refers to the general fitness of the driver in terms of his or her state of health and well-being as well as specific fitness, which is a task-orientated definition based on a person’s ability to perform specific aspects of sports or occupations (Arrive Alive, Nd).
In the USA, truck drivers who have a BMI (body mass index) higher than 25 (which means that they are overweight) are off work 13 times longer for a worker’s compensation claim than an injured driver with a healthy BMI. In addition, obese truck drivers have twice the crash rate per mile (1.6 km) compared to healthy drivers (Tarrell, 2016).
Professional driver fitness
In the United States of America (USA), strict guidelines are issued for truck, motor carrier and related vehicle drivers to rank and compare carriers based on safety. One of the categories used is the driver fitness compliance Behaviour Analysis and Safety Improvement Category (BASIC). In this sense, fitness does not only refer to being fit to drive, but also whether drivers are properly trained as well as mentally and physically fit to drive. This is applicable to any individual, business or organisation that operates commercial motor vehicles. Some of the measurements and events that are considered to calculate a carrier’s driver fitness BASIC include:
- The results of roadside inspections and the number of violations;
- the total number of crashes, BASIC violations and adverse safety events;
- the overall severity of incidents, violations and crashes; and
- when the events occurred - recent events weigh more heavily on a driver’s score than older ones (Truck Insurance Quotes, 2019).
In order to improve the risks which drivers face employers should focus on the following:
- Providing education and training about drivers’ health and fitness. Hosting regular
- sessions about the importance of wellness and eating healthy and regularly while on the road, can improve drivers' physical health;
- ensuring that all drivers have the ability to communicate in English, even if not fluently. It will help them to understand traffic signs or communicate
- with the authorities and others in an understandable way; and
- tracking and checking document expiry dates: both driving licences as well as professional driving permits need to be renewed every five years.
Once AARTO becomes operational, employers should also keep track of any demerit points for their employees which can impact on whether their driving licence is suspended. (Refer to the article published on pp 18-21 in Servamus: January 2020 about AARTO.)
Given the impact of obesity on driver fitness in the USA, Tarrell (2016) notes that truck drivers have to be screened by a health professional on the National Registry of Medical Examiners. One of the issues that is a serious health concern is sleep apnea and measures must be found to test and deal with long-distance drivers. She has the following suggestions for transport companies on boosting wellness for truck (or other long-distance) drivers by:
- Explaining the importance of the drivers’ wellness - not only on an individual level but also for the success of the company;
- providing tips in terms of healthy snacks for drivers such as which fruit and veggies are easy to travel with over long distances rather than eating
- meals that are high in carbohydrates or sugar;
- the importance of fitting in exercises despite spending long hours on the road as well as of stopping, resting and stretching regularly;
- tips on boosting drivers’ emotional health;
- making driver safety and health a challenge and getting drivers’ buy-in by offering incentives such as cash, company merchandise or a holiday for
- drivers who commit to eating healthy, exercising and losing weight. Drivers who are active on social media can share their healthy habits on the
- company’s special social media page which can also be used to track their involvement; and
- reiterating the message of #KeepingHealthy through communication; in staff rooms and on social media.