We need to take better care of our truck drivers

16 April 2019 Anton Cornelissen, Head Santam Heavy Haulage

In 2017, the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) reported 1270 fatalities linked to trucks. Despite making up just 0.36% of registered vehicles in SA, trucks account for 11% of road crash fatalities. Why? A road safety awareness event run by Santam and the RTMC in November 2018 points to fatigue as causality number one. This should prompt some serious ripple reactions for relevant business owners, in the interest of looking after their drivers and vehicle fleets.

At the event, 80 trucks were inspected, and their respective drivers were interviewed and given free medical examinations by the National Bargaining Council for the Road Freight and Logistics Industry (NBCRFLI). Sibusiso (pseudonym) – who has been working behind the wheel for 15 years – was one of many drivers to pinpoint pressure as a compounding factor, “In the truck industry, it is normal for a driver to drive for 18 hours a day, but we cannot make people sit in the office for that long. I earn less than R10 000 and I am away from my family for one to four weeks at times.”

92% of the participating drivers attributed fatigue as the major cause of truck accidents. 97% had families with children. Time away from family can also exacerbate feelings of loneliness and fatigue. Interestingly, over 77% of drivers were under 45 years of age and 34% had been driving for under five years. This suggests a worryingly high turnover, with the industry seemingly failing to retain high-performing older talent.

What can business owners do to improve driver wellness?

Truck drivers work under uniquely physically demanding con¬ditions, putting them at increased risk of a range of chronic health conditions, including diabetes and hypertension. Prioritising the health and wellness of truck drivers is not a nice-to-have but a business necessity. Your team is invaluable. And your trucks can total anything up to R2.5-million to replace, and that’s without cargo costs factored in. Here are some suggestions on how to improve employee wellness:

1. Make it a top-down commitment. Leaders need to cascade the importance of wellness – physical and mental – throughout the company. Implement a health and wellbeing policy that includes fatigue management. This means enforcing strict driving hours and consequences for shifts that stretch beyond these hours.
2. Introduce flexible work hours. Build in time for driving breaks, meal breaks and exercise.
3. Nominate team members to lead wellness programmes. Let them spread the message and values among the other drivers.
4. Conduct health checks on new team members. Offer regular check-ups to all staff. Additionally, check in with your team to assess their general happiness and to address any challenges they feel they’re facing.
5. Have frequent workshops on wellness and safety briefings. Discuss important things like the impact of sleep deprivation. Bring in experts who can lead meditation and mindfulness sessions or stretching and aerobic exercises.
6. Monitor how long drivers have been away from their families. Try and rotate long shifts to minimise the time each person must spend away from loved ones.
7. Tap into smart technologies. There are existing technologies you can use that monitors how long a vehicle has been driving on the road without stopping for a break, to coach drivers on behaviour and fatigue related patterns of driving and high-risk times.

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