Editor's Journal: Risky business

Randy Grider is editor of Truckers News. He is the son of a career trucker and holds a CDL. He blogs regularly at www.truckersnews.com/truckwriters-blog. Write him at [email protected].

Trucking industry makes strides in reducing job dangers, but still has a long way to go

In early May, I was asked to appear on FoxBusiness.com Live to discuss the dangers associated with being a truck driver. It was part of a segment titled Risky Business(es) that focused on hazardous occupations. (It was scheduled to later air on the Fox Business Network.)

Historically, driving a truck has been categorized among the most dangerous jobs in the United States — often ranked in the top 10 in various statistical lists. According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2008 the fatality rate for truck drivers was 22.8 per 100,000. The fatality rate for all jobs for the same year was less than four per 100,000.

Getting the chance to share trucking information with an audience outside the trucking industry is exciting because you sort of get the opportunity to set the record straight. But in a five-minute interview you are limited when the hosts control the questioning and the flow.

The day before the show, I put together some talking points. It didn’t take long to realize there was no way in the short time allocated that I could adequately convey to the audience the amount of information needed to fully understand the complex risks of being a truck driver.

I managed to point out that while trucking is safer than it used to be thanks to advancements in equipment and technology, a truck driver’s biggest safety challenge starts with the basic circumstances of the job — piloting a vehicle weighing up to 80,000 pounds down a highway where four-wheelers of every driving-skill level are forcing the trucker to make hundreds of decisions each minute. I tried to stress that the general motoring public needs to be better educated on how to share the road with large trucks.

I also got the chance to emphasize one way truckers could be helped is by spending less time at shippers’ and receivers’ facilities. The longer a driver waits to load or unload, the more he or she may have to drive without a break in order to make up for often needlessly lost time before the 14-hour on-duty window closes.

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We also discussed the recent economic downturn as it pertained to truckers — especially owner-operators. Financial risks mixed with safety dangers show truckers have to be well-rounded professionals to survive all the pitfalls in the industry, but we didn’t even scratch the surface.

There was a lot more I wish we’d had time to discuss to give non-trucking viewers a clearer picture of life on the road.

On the safety side, this would have included that there is a constant threat of serious injury just from performing non-driving duties like securing the load. Strained muscles from lifting a tarp or changing a tire are daily hazards. Even worse are slips and falls from atop a trailer or the cab when getting in or out. These injuries can result in sprains, broken bones and even death in some instances. One misplaced hand or foot can sideline a driver for an extended period or even end a career altogether.

Probably just as great a risk for a growing number of truckers are health issues often rooted in the very lifestyle of trucking. Poor eating habits exasperated by sitting too long with little exercise can lead to a number of health problems, including obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart illnesses and sleep apnea.

And then there are other stresses that play a part in the safety, health and finances of truck drivers. These include aspects of the job like complying with regulations, inspections, equipment issues and dealing with personal relationships while being away from home.

All this combines to bring us to the ultimate shocking reality of the industry. Studies have shown the average male trucker’s life expectancy is anywhere from 10 to 15 years shorter than that of a man in the greater population.

Truckers deliver the majority of goods everyone in this country uses to not only survive but pursue their own versions of the American dream. Truckers deserve the same opportunities. Trucking fatalities have steadily decreased over the past few years. That’s a good start. But we have a long way to go.

Driving a truck will always carry with it a set of risks, but it doesn’t have to be at or near the top of dangerous-jobs lists. I would love to one day discuss how trucking became one of the nation’s safest industries.

It probably wouldn’t garner the same kind of attention as being dangerous or risky, but that’s OK. We’ve carried that label far too long.

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