Truck driving ranks as one of a number of occupations with the highest rate of compensation claims for cardiovascular disease and occupational cancers, a new report has shown.
Safe Work Australia's examination of occupational disease indicators shows truck driving was one of the leading industries for claims made for both diseases between 2008-09 and 2010-11.
The report, Occupational Disease Indicators, 2014, cites exposure to carbon monoxide as a leading cause of increased risk to cardiovascular disease.
"The gas is most commonly found in exhaust fumes from internal-combustion engines, which are widely used in power vehicles, plants and other types of machinery in workplaces," Safe Work Australia says.
It adds that exposure to tobacco smoke, psychosocial factors, noise and shift work can also play a role.
It says workplaces should enforce no-smoking policies, promote exercise and sensible diets and minimise exposure to stress to reduce the risk of employees suffering from cardiovascular disease.
Truck drivers joined freight and furniture handlers, railway workers and tradespeople in the list of professions with the highest compensation claims made for occupational cancers.
"Current theories on cancer suggest that its cause is a multi-step process arising from a combination of factors that vary by nature and degree of exposure to carcinogens over time, mediated by individual behaviour and genetic factors," Safe Work Australia says.
"Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia and outdoor workers are at particular risk."
However, the report notes that the rate of compensation claims has fallen from a peak of 66 claims per million employees in 2003-04 to 48 in 2008-09 and has remained stable ever since.
There has also been a drop in claims for cardiovascular diseases.
"Between 2000-01 and 2010-11, the rate of all cardiovascular diseases had a peak of 49 claims per million employees in 2002-03 and a low of 24 in 2010-11," the report adds.
Other occupations with a high rate of compensation claims for cardiovascular disease include fire fighters, police, sales representatives and school teachers.
Safe Work Australia examined eight priority disease groups in its study and noticed decreasing trends for five of the eight groups between 2000-01 and 2010-11.
The diseases examined were mental disorders, noise-induced hearing loss, occupational cancers, musculoskeletal disorders, infectious and parasitic diseases, respiratory diseases, contact dermatitis and cardiovascular diseases.
Mental disorders, noise-induced hearing loss and occupational cancers were the only disease groups that did not display a clear overall trend of increase or decrease.
Efforts are being made to improve the health of truck drivers, such as through work currently underway involving the Queensland University of Technology (QUT).
Researchers recently worked with five trucking companies in Queensland to develop workplace-specific programs to help drivers eat better and move more.
Health promotion expert Dr Marguerite Sendall says the sedentary nature of a truck driver's job puts them at a high risk of diabetes and heart disease.
"What we know about the risks of chronic disease has changed a lot in the past 30 years and we now understand there is a very high risk from factors such as unhealthy diets, lack of regular exercise, sedentariness and overweight and obesity," Sendall says.
"We know more people die from sitting than smoking. And truckies, by the very nature of their job, spend most of their working week sitting."
The five companies in Queensland implemented a tailored plan to help employees adopt healthier lifestyles. The plans included walking challenges, promoting healthy choices and equipping trucks with food storage and cooking equipment.
"I think the industry is receptive to a level of change but they are also very aware of the issues and pressures, such as regulation and timeslots, which impact on their ability to support truckies to lead a healthy lifestyle," Sendall says.
She adds that feedback from truck drivers indicates that they feel it is the individual's responsibility to live a healthier lifestyle.
"So if a truckie is overweight, for example, then the truckies feel the individual is responsible for adopting, or not, a healthier diet," she says.
"But then the problem is they are stuck between a rock and hard place. It's so much harder for them to make lifestyle changes because of the long hours and the nature of their work. That's why there is a need for this intervention - to help them overcome the challenges of their working environment."