Truckers discuss real-world health problems

| November 10, 2010

Frank Silo, a company driver for Covenant Transport, knows firsthand how obesity affects truckers, both professional and personally. His weight reached the point that he couldn’t even wear a wedding ring. “I had to hold my breath to tie my shoes,” Silo said, topping the scales at 268 pounds in summer 2007.

After looking at a photo himself and his wife while on vacation, Silo decided to change his lifestyle. “That was my turning point,” he said.

Silo started walking while waiting to be loaded or unloaded. He then got a dorm-size refrigerator for the truck, bought a George Foreman grill and began preparing healthier meals on the road, and when he did eat out, he would walk to restaurants with better food options. “I’m now eating healthier, sleeping better, and I feel better,” said Silo, who now weighs 217 pounds. “I’m more alert and feel I’m a safer driver.”

Silo, on the left in the photo above with fellow America’s Road Team member Ralph Garcia, who drives for ABF Freight System, outlined challenges that face drivers’ health at the International Conference on Commercial Driver Health and Wellness in Baltimore. These included time constraints associated with scheduling of loads, a lack of flexibility with hours-of-service compliance, lack of food choices on the road and problems with taking perishable foods in some company trucks that don’t have or don’t allow inverters to run appliances, as well as the demands of family life when at home.

From the owner-operator perspective, other obstacles often intrude. Maintaining affordable health insurance is one of those challenges.

“I pay close to $5,000 a year for health insurance, and I have a $5,000 deductible in order to keep rates down,” said Rick Ash, an owner-operator leased to HVH Transportation and chairman of the Trucking Solutions Group. “The first $5,000 for medical expenses every year comes out of my pocket. For owner-operators who are diagnosed with conditions such as sleep apnea and other conditions, this can be devastating.”

Gary Hull, who worked for eight years as a long-haul trucker and is one of the founders of Truckers for a Cause, A.W.A.K.E. Chapter, said there is also a culture of mistrust in the industry. Many drivers fail to seek medical attention for fear of losing their CDLs or their jobs.

“Many of today’s truck drivers feel like there are being punished for doing the right thing,” Hull said.

Hull gave the example of a fellow driver who went 12 years beating the system with diabetes. “The man was scared that if he got caught as a diabetic, he would lose his job,” Hull said. “In this case, the man was hurting himself, but it was more important for him to provide for his family. The short-term problem was bigger than the long-term problem.

“If we are going to have a successful wellness program, that’s the No. 1 barrier we’ve got to get across.”

The conference continues today with medical officials, trucking officials and wellness experts from around the world.

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