This post is related to COVID-19. For more, visit Missouri Employers Mutual’s COVID-19 Resource Center for Employers.
COVID-19 is changing the way so many people go about their daily lives, and transportation workers are dealing with an increased amount of stress, longer hours, and heavier loads.
Planning and thinking ahead about safety can reduce drivers’ stress and increase their chances of staying healthy.
In this episode, we sat down with Senior Safety and Risk Trainer Mark Woodward to discuss how to handle the stress, what driving under the increased demands should look like, along with other safety precautions transportation workers can take to help them work with confidence.
Listen to this episode on the WorkSAFE Podcast, or read the show notes below.
Prioritizing drivers’ health and safety outside of the truck
The safety of truck drivers is always paramount. Regardless of the situation slips, trips and falls from trucks along with orthopedic injuries like overexertion and strains and sprains will continue to be possibilities. Drivers need to be aware of these risks and think back to the basics of how to prevent them. If a driver gets hurt, it is now complicated by the fact that they will need to seek treatment at facilities that may be treating COVID-19, which compounds their risk for health issues. Drivers must work carefully around trucks, trailers, tarps, chains, boomers and bad parking lots to prevent the possibility of injury.
Drivers will undoubtedly encounter others, whether it be at the loading dock, fuel stop, or any of the other places they need to visit. At these locations, we want to think through how to limit our contact along with treating every bodily fluid, encountered, as possibly infectious. Stay back from others, use social distancing, and sanitize hands and surfaces often. Clean your truck, door handles, grab bars, door latches and any other object you might regularly use. It is beneficial to look for ways to eliminate the need to share items such as pens and paperwork.
Good communication is always imperative, especially during unprecedented times. It is important to communicate with suppliers and clients to minimize issues and exposures when picking up and delivering goods. Many businesses have changed their rules and procedures and could result in a driver being refused access to sites and having their load rejected.
After every interaction with people or facilities, it is important to wash your hands. One option would be to carry supplies such as gallon jugs of water and soap to wash your hands. Washing your hands after each interaction can make a drastic difference.
Importance of mental health and stress reduction
One of the best ways to reduce mental stress is by paying attention to messages going into your mind. Listen to podcasts, stay in touch with loved ones and keep conversations positive. The more we can focus on the aspects of life that fill us with joy the less stressed we will be.
Health and wellness are also key to maintaining a healthy mentality. When we eat healthily, we sleep better. When drivers are stopped, make time for walks. Exercise has been proven to help the mind.
Stay away from excessive caffeine, sugar and always alcohol when you are driving. These substances can increase your risks of fatigue and cause other harmful reactions.
Placing photos of your loved ones in your truck is also a great way to reduce stress. It helps you remember why you go to work each day and is a constant reminder as to why you must work safely.
Putting safety first amid relaxed restrictions
Restrictions on drive time and load weight are in place to promote a culture of safe driving and reduce the risk of driving incidents. When there is extremely high demand, regulating bodies may provide exemptions to those restrictions. However, companies and drivers shouldn’t use those exemptions as an excuse to be unsafe. Fatigue is a leading cause of vehicle crashes, and it affects drivers even when restrictions have been relaxed.
If a business chooses to change its rules to allow for nonstop or overloaded driving it may even do damage to their safety culture by sending mixed messages to the drivers. Communicate with your drivers that their safety remains your top priority regardless of any exemptions that are in place.
Avoiding fatigue while driving long hours
Stress on a driver can lead to many responses. Road rage, speeding, poor food intake, and fatigue can all be symptoms of a driver being stressed and can lead to easy mistakes being made or an increase in close calls. It’s important to be aware of the effects of stress and fatigue on drivers.
Drivers should be asking themselves if they have gotten any decent sleep recently and look for ways to increase their quality of sleep such as reducing the amount of sugar and caffeine in the afternoon and evenings along with staying off their phones before bed. Sleep is vital to reducing stress and not becoming fatigued. If you find that you are tired, regardless of how many hours you have left in your day, stop and get some sleep.
Heavier loads expose trucks to new risks
Most loads have been limited to 80,000 lbs in the past. The amended weight restrictions allow drivers to carry loads up to 100,000 lbs. The added weight can result in several adverse effects and drivers must follow the typical safety guidelines.
Heavier weight impacts total stopping distance as well as wear-and-tear on brakes and tires. This means that drivers need to do a thorough job of doing their pre-trip check ensuring their brakes, steering and steer tires are all in proper working order. It also means that they must avoid tailgating, increase following distance and obey all speed limits.
Communication and planning for breaks
Drivers must stay in touch with their dispatchers. The dispatchers will be one of their most valuable assets when it comes to knowing what they can and cannot do. Drivers can work with the dispatchers on alternative places to park and discuss options of leaving the trailer at another location so they can more easily access facilities that might remain open.
Working with dispatch will enable drivers to find facilities available for transportation drivers to use the restroom or find healthy food to eat. Be sure to continue good hygiene practices along the way.
It is also important to make every stop count. Get out and exercise. It won’t always be easy, but going for walks, jogs, or other physical activities will greatly help drivers with their fatigue and stress.
Our key takeaways for trucking professionals: communicate, practice good hygiene, rest, and don’t become complacent. Complacency can cause many issues. As a driver, it is important to follow basic safety principles and your company’s safety plan. Driver safety basics such as slow down, don’t tailgate, and wear your seat belt can make a huge difference.