Truck driving is one of the unhealthiest jobs in Australia, according to a study into driver health which has been carried out by Monash University, looking at truck driver health.
A 12-year study into the health and wellbeing of Australia’s truck drivers has revealed that they have a 13-fold higher risk of dying at work than other Australian workers, making it among the most dangerous occupations in the country.
The Monash University-led Driving Health Study also found that more than 120,000 claims for work-related injury and disease were lodged by drivers over the study period. Only 17 per cent of these claims came from vehicle crashes, with the rest caused by physical and psychological stress, falls, slips and trips and other causes. Over the 12 year period, the claims added up to more than one million lost weeks of work.
“Truck driving is a job with many health risks” says Professor Alex Collie, from the Monash School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine. “It has long working hours, lots of sitting, poor nutrition, social isolation, shift work, time pressure, low levels of job control, all in addition to the risk of road crashes”.
According to Professor Collie and his co-author, Dr Ross Iles, previous large Australian studies of truck driver health have focused almost exclusively on safety outcomes such as crashes, near misses, fatalities and traumatic injury.
“These studies also typically focus their attention on specific causes of those outcomes, including fatigue/shift work and regulatory/ commercial models,” said Alex.
The Monash University study, done in partnership with Linfox and the Transport Workers Union, takes a more holistic approach, to identify opportunities to improve health and wellbeing amongst truck drivers, the study seeks to characterise the nature of injury and disease more broadly. The team are looking beyond road crashes and into things like mental health conditions, back pain and hearing loss which are all areas of major concern in truck drivers.
“Truck drivers are a vital part of the Australian economy, and this is the first step towards getting a complete picture of their health and wellbeing,” says Ross. “Our next steps are to find out from drivers themselves how best to tackle to the health problems they face, and then to work with industry to develop programs to improve health.”
A report released earlier this year, the second from the Driving Health Study, used a unique national database of more than 4.5 million workers compensation claims, made across all industries in Australia, from 2004-2015.
The study found that:
- A total of 24 geographic areas had more than twice the average rate of work‑related injury and disease in truck drivers. These areas were typically on the outskirts of major cities and on the border between VIC and NSW, reflecting major trucking routes.
- The average age of truck drivers with accepted workers’ compensation claims was 44.5 years.
- The largest group of claims were from the 35 to 54 years age group, accounting for nearly sixty percent of all claims.
- The oldest age group of 65+ years recorded the smallest percentage of total claims (2.7 per cent) but were at the highest risk of injury and disease, and recorded median time loss durations much longer than younger drivers.
- The older drivers also had a statistically significantly higher rate of neurological conditions compared with the other age groups, suggestive of noise induced hearing loss from prolonged exposure to noisy working environments.
- Generally, musculoskeletal injury was the most common type of injury for all truck drivers, accounting for approximately 60 percent of all accepted claims. The median duration of time off work following a musculoskeletal injury was 5.2 weeks.
- In contrast, mental health accounted for a small proportion of accepted claims but the median duration was much longer at 10.3 weeks.
- There were 545 compensated work‑related fatal injury claims in truck drivers in the 12‑year time series, representing 15.1 per cent of all compensated fatal claims across all occupations in Australia during the study period.
- Truck drivers had a 13-fold higher risk of fatal injury than other workers, and more than three quarters of fatalities in truck drivers were due to vehicle crashes. In contrast vehicle crashes accounted for less than 17 per cent of the burden of injury and disease when measured as weeks lost from work. Other mechanisms including body stressing, falls slips and trips were responsible for a much greater portion of the non‑fatal burden.
- The 10 per cent of drivers accessing mental health services were more likely to be over 24, be from the lowest socio-economic band and be employed by smaller employers. These drivers showed a different pattern of health care use compared to other drivers. Moreover, 92 percent of mental health services were provided more than 14 weeks after acceptance of a workers compensation claim, potentially reflecting a missed opportunity for early intervention. This is in contrast with other health care services such as GP visits and physiotherapy, where peak service use occurred within the first three months after injury.