Good work habits can prevent getting hurt on the job.
In 2003, an estimated 27,000 truck drivers and passengers were injured when their truck was involved in a motor vehicle accident, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Although that number is large, it’s nothing compared to the number of truckers injured on the job every year in accidents not involving a moving vehicle.
Consider these statistics:
- In 1995, 151,000 truck drivers were non-fatally injured – the vast majority were not involved in accidents – according to one study of U.S. government labor data.
- Last year, seven out of every 100 truckers were injured on the job, according to the federal government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.
- Strains and sprains account for 50 percent of all non-traffic-related trucker injuries, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration
- Other common injuries include bruises, fractures, cuts and lacerations, soreness and pain, and multiple traumatic injuries, OSHA says.
Those numbers make trucking one of America’s most dangerous industries. But, safety directors say it doesn’t have to be that dangerous if drivers would take their time, pay attention to their surroundings and follow some simple rules.
“Fifty percent of our major injuries in terms of dollars occur in vehicle accidents,” says Tom Lansing, vice president of safety and driver services for Hogan Transport. The carrier is one of the safest in the country, according to the Truckload Carriers Association. “But the other 50 percent happen when our drivers get in and out of the truck or in slips and falls.”
Lansing’s estimates jive with federal data. OSHA says truck driver injuries (not related to transportation accidents) occur due to overexertion, contact with objects or equipment, being struck by an object or falling.
The easiest way to get injured – climb in or out of your truck. Falls happen because drivers get careless or in a hurry. “A foot slips off the step, and they either fall all the way to the ground or they’re hanging on, but the slip causes a shoulder injury,” Lansing says.
The reasons such falls happen are simple: Truckers don’t wear proper shoes and fail to clean slippery substances, like ice, snow and grime from steps, Lansing says. “Or they’re using improper techniques getting out. Instead of turning around and backing out, they come out forward.”
Or they fail to maintain three points of contact with the truck upon entering or exiting. A driver should have at least three parts of his body – two hands and one foot or one hand and two feet – touching the truck at all times during egress and regress, Lansing says.
The sedentary nature of truck driving also plays a role in injuries, according to Andrew Knestaut, an economist at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Truck drivers spend many hours behind a steering wheel,” he wrote in a report on trucker injuries. “Tight delivery schedules mean drivers have little time to waste at delivery sites, so they move heavy items immediately upon arrival to save time. Strenuous activity after hours of sitting, without time to stretch stiff muscles, may help explain why drivers sustain these injuries.”
Drivers also injure themselves when they’re required to touch loads. Foot, leg and back injuries are common around pallet jacks. Physical therapists recommend pushing instead of pulling to reduce the chance of a back injury. For truckers who have to actually lift loads with their hands, the proper technique (see sidebar) can make all the difference.
Drivers need to remember to “keep their feet underneath their frame,” Lansing says. “They’ll take a big step, become off balance and strain things.” When lifting, lift with your legs and keep your back straight, he says.
Other common injuries occur on flatbeds and specialty trailers. Owner-operator Thomas Turner says he’s never injured himself in 30 years on the job, including time spent climbing on and off flatbeds and lowboys and in and out of cabovers. “You’ve just got to be careful and take your time,” Turner says. “Make sure you’ve got a hold of something good before you get up and down.”
Turner says drivers often forget to take advantage of the built-in steps on most flatbeds and lowboys and will jump up and down, adding to the impact on their legs and joints.
Another tip – don’t work tired. Fatigue leads to injury because drivers don’t pay attention. “Don’t get so tired you can’t do your work properly,” Turner recommends.
Awareness is important, too. According to Knestaut’s study, drivers are injured outside their vehicles by shifting loads, other vehicles and by contact with machines and items they are carrying.
Safety directors say truckers are creatures of habit, like everyone else. Build good habits and you’ll avoid becoming an injury statistic.
- Maintain three-point contact with truck
- Exit and enter with the proper orientation – facing the truck.
- Use handholds.
- Pay attention to slick surfaces, especially ice and snow.
- Take your time.
- Don’t jump.
- If you’ve been driving for a long time, stretch before you climb.
- Squat down, bending at the hips and knees only.
- Press your chest straight out so your upper back will be straight and your lower back slightly arched.
- Lift slowly by straightening your hip and knee joints, not your back.
- Hold the load as close to your body as possible.
- Keep the bottom of the load level with your navel.
- Avoid twists and turns.
- Avoid extreme postures.
- Keep your back and abdominal muscles tense.
- Don’t overexert yourself.
- Keep a secure grip. If the object you’re carrying moves, you may have a sudden, awkward and injurious reaction.
- Move smoothly at a safe, moderate pace.
- Take small steps and use your feet to change direction, not your body.
- Keep your shoulders parallel with your hips as you move, especially when turning.
- Set down your load carefully, squatting with your knees and hips only.