Looking to stay safe on the job? If you're a trucker, you'll need to take extra care.
Statistics from the US Department of Labor (DOL) show trucking to be one of most dangerous occupations. In fact, transportation and material moving occupations accounted for the largest number of fatal work injuries of any major occupational group in 2004, the most recent year for which statistics are available. The fatality rate rose from 16.7 fatalities per 100,000 in 2003 to 17.5 in 2004.
The silver lining to that black cloud, however, is that injuries and illnesses -- though still much higher than the rates for the private sector as a whole -- were down in 2004 from the previous year. According to the DOL, truck transportation in particular experienced a significant decline in the rate of injuries and illnesses, falling from 6.8 cases per 100 full-time employees in 2003 to 6.1 cases in 2004.
How can you avoid personally contributing to the number of injuries -- or even fatalities? Try these tips:
Take Time Out to Move Around
This includes "taking breaks, stopping, getting out of the vehicle," urges Peter Budnick, president and CEO of Ergoweb, a full-service ergonomics company.
W. Monroe Keyserling, associate director at the Center for Occupational Health and Safety Engineering, University of Michigan, advises: "Minimize time spent sitting in the driver's seat during rest stops. Change your posture by walking around during short stops. During longer stops, you may want to lie down in the bed" if your cabin is equipped with one.
Wear Comfortable Clothing
"The best way to avoid health problems brought on by long periods of sitting is to wear loose, comfortable clothing and footwear," advises Franc Gomez, a long-haul trucker and former certified commercial license trainer. "Lack of proper blood circulation can create tremendous discomfort and result in health problems in the long run."
Pay Attention to Your Truck's Interior Design
The layout of instrument panel and switches, cab insulation to reduce interior noise and cruise-control steering are all factors to consider. "Depending upon the height and weight of the driver, the steering wheel, seat height and backrest should always be positioned for maximum comfort, so that the driver's movements are not overly restricted and his or her legs do not become subject to cramps due to lack of space," says Gomez.
Never Jump from the Cab to the Ground
"This places high loads on the trunk and lower extremities," says Keyserling.
Budnick adds, "When you stop the vehicle and egress is another time when lots of accidents occur. You go to step out of the vehicle, and maybe you miss the step, because your senses are deadened. Or you jump to the ground rather than climb down the vehicle. Your body is not prepared for the impact."
Both Budnick and Gomez cite the "three points of contact" rule. "There should always be three of our four extremities in contact with the vehicle at all times during boarding and exiting," explains Gomez. "Two hands and one foot or two feet and one hand should always be used to support our ascent into or descent from within the vehicle. This will ensure that we have sufficient means to recover from what would have otherwise been a painful fall due to a slip or loss of grip. The same remains true whether we are climbing aboard to drive or uncoupling the tractor lines from the trailer."
Be Careful -- Not Macho -- When Handling Loads
This is another aspect of truck driving that goes beyond the steering wheel. "Whenever possible, use mechanized equipment (e.g., pallets and fork trucks) when loading/unloading trailers," urges Keyserling. "When manually loading/unloading a trailer, seek assistance if you feel that a load is too heavy to safely handle."
Consider the Effects of Road Vibrations
Cab seats should have good anti-vibration characteristics. "We call it whole-body vibration," says Budnick. "Some of the natural vibration frequencies that vehicles operate at are also frequencies at which the spine is more likely to be injured long-term."
Rick Goggins, an ergonomist with the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries, says that "tilting the seat back a little from vertical may reduce the amount of vibration and road shock that travels directly up the spine." You should also maintain proper tire pressure and suspension systems as well as lower the back part of the seat so that the "sit bones" don't bear all your body weight.
Watch Your Step
Be careful when walking on surfaces covered with ice, oil, grease or other slippery contaminants, warns Keyserling. "Likewise, be careful when walking on cracked or uneven surfaces," he says. "Slips and trips can cause injury to the back in addition to other body parts."
Know When You're Tired
Stay cognizant of your fatigue level after many hours of nonstop driving. "Accidents can be best avoided by recognizing the fact that driving a commercial or personal vehicle is a full-time endeavor," says Gomez. "Inattentiveness is the most dangerous, and sadly the most prevalent, cause of accidents."
Remember, says Budnick, "the industry is competitive, so it becomes a trade-off between getting there as fast as possible and getting there healthy -- take the time to take a break."