February 18, 2021

Monash study reveals truckies’ health problems

We already know that trucking is a dangerous job. But a three-year study published recently by Monash University, in partnership with the TWU, paints a horrific picture of just how bad things are for drivers. Over 80% are overweight or obese, one in five suffer from severe psychological distress, over 70% live with chronic pain and almost a third have multiple chronic health conditions.

Other key findings include:

  • Truck drivers work long hours. Half of those surveyed work 41-60 hours per week and 37.5% working over 60 hours per week.
  • 13% of drivers reported having a crash in the past year.
  • Over 70% said they had a near miss on average once per week. Having three or more chronic conditions nearly doubles the odds of experiencing a crash.
  • Over a third of drivers have a diagnosed back problem, double that of the average Australian male.
  • Over a quarter have high blood pressure.
  • Almost a third reported having three or more of the health conditions listed, compared to 7.8% of the general population.
  • Half of drivers reported some level of psychological distress. The proportion of truck drivers under 35 with severe psychological distress was almost double that of the average for Australian males for that age bracket.

For the first time, this truck driver health study has shown that the physical and mental health problems truck drivers face are explicitly connected to the many pressures and stresses of the job, and directly linked to an increase in crashes and near misses. When driver health is not a priority, it impacts the whole community.

The study has shown that risk factors because of the jobs include: “long working hours, sedentary roles, poor nutrition, social isolation, shift work, time pressure, low levels of job control, and fatigue”. It points to a need for urgent reform to address and prevent mental health and poor health among drivers.

Find the rest of the statistics in our infographic.

In an ABC 7:30 report, drivers Frank Black, Jerry Brown-Sarre and Robert Bell shared their experiences of life on the road.

Frank Black

Owner driver Frank Black says “It’s long hours, it’s lonesome hours behind the wheel. You get pressures, there’s the pressures of meeting deadlines.”

It’s had an impact on his personal life too, with a divorce and some failed relationships due to the nature of the job and always being away.

Robert Bell

Robert Bell, a former driver, says he can’t say whether driving has shortened his life, but does say “I wouldn’t say it’s a healthy lifestyle by any stretch,” talking about his years of poor eating at truck stops.

It wasn’t just his physical health, either. He says he’s missed far too many birthdays and family milestones.

Jerry Brown-Sarre

Jerry Brown-Sarre spent an incredible 60 years as a driver. Though he enjoyed being “king of the road,” he knows more than most people just how tough a gig it is. “I was told,” he says, “Your first 12 months, if you survive that, you might survive a few years in this industry. I survived the first 12 months, but a lot of people don’t.”

Injuries from driving led to his retirement, and his only option now is to live with it.

Watch the full ABC 7:30 report.

What other drivers in the study said

Anonymous drivers also contributed to the three-year truck driver health study. One said, “Just last week, I had a driver say that he nearly pulled the wheel on the truck to head straight into a tree, because it was just crap; it was too overwhelming for him. And he’s breaking down crying on the phone.”

“Myself and my ex-wife separated… because I was away so much. So that’s probably one time where I lost everything,” said another.

“My son’s been looking for my guidance and my love I suppose and it hasn’t been there because I’ve been too busy driving trucks and, you know, fighting my own battles,” said another.

It’s pretty obvious how tenacious and resilient truck drivers are. But a can-do attitude shouldn’t have to mean putting up with sub-standard truck stops, pressure from employers and pay that gets undercut because of the wealthy companies at the top of the supply chain.

It’s time for the Federal Government to take your health seriously. That means making wealthy clients at the top of the supply chain accountable for the pressures they force onto drivers. It means committing to upgrading truck stops around the country. It means making road transport safer, so that people like Robert Bell don’t have to leave the industry.

Take the pledge at bit.ly/TruckiePledge to commit to taking action and improve conditions for truckies.


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