Opinion: Investing in Drivers’ Health Pays Big Dividends
This Opinion piece appears in the March 28 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.
By Bob Perry
President and Founder
Since May 2014 and the introduction of the new medical examiner system, more than 150,000 drivers have left the transportation industry due to medical ineligibility.
While many were disqualified due to extreme conditions, if 50% of forced retirements could be avoided, and if carriers could have saved 50% of those drivers, that’s 37,500 professional drivers who would have remained behind the wheel.
I don’t think the United States has a driver shortage; it has a shortage of vision. When an alarming number of otherwise qualified drivers fall out of the industry due health problems, the industry’s methods need to change and driver retention has to be about health, not just about bonuses.
Given the increasing complexity, long lead times and high cost of recruiting drivers, it’s common sense for companies to start doing a better job of retaining existing personnel.
Marketing 101 tells us that it’s cheaper to retain a customer rather than acquire a new one. Shouldn’t this same principle apply to your drivers?
It takes years for a truck driver to attain optimum effectiveness, but those same years also take a toll on a driver’s health.
Let the data be your guide. If you don’t have the technology to properly track drivers’ health, make the minor investment that’s required — and which will yield a massive return.
Many fleets don’t know how many of their drivers have short-term cards or are only 90 days out from recertification. Collecting reliable information on why they received a short-term card is distressingly rare, as are solid statistics on how many drivers were lost due to poor health. Modern telematics can provide a wealth of real-time information on qualified drivers who leave the industry due to health problems.
The industry’s methods need to change.
Focus has to start during the recruiting process. I speak to recruits at driver orientation events regularly and too often see nothing but junk food at those gatherings. This is just one example of the wrong mindset. It may seem like a small thing, but it sends a clear signal. You should not provide unhealthy food that promotes illness while you are hiring drivers and then be shocked when they fail their medical exam and have to be terminated.
Not all occupations tether livelihood to health parameters, but that is mandated for the professional driver. Drivers in poor health represent serious risk. Driver-wellness education needs to be front and center from day one — and not only for new hires but for trainers, supervisors, managers and executives, too.
Carriers should implement second- chance programs for drivers who fail orientation because of medical issues. If the company thinks a candidate’s health situation can reasonably be addressed, have a coach work with him or her on nutrition and exercise. If those measures are taken in the beginning, disqualification will decrease and new drivers will receive the invaluable message that the company cares about them. Numerous surveys have proved that drivers rank a company’s attitude, alongside wages and home time, when it comes to staying put.
So, during driver orientation:
• Take health readings and consult on the findings.
• Feed recruits better and explain the immediate effects of nutrition on test results.
• Demonstrate agility-testing procedures and associated best practices.
• Do a run-through of the complete testing process so there are no surprises.
• Help drivers maximize their results with useful information.
It will help drivers to make lifestyle changes and improve their health if coaching and education opportunities are provided. Drivers appreciate it when someone takes the time to work with them, but you can’t just load up on the front end. There has to be follow-through to prove that your company’s interest is sincere.
Here are some easy-to-use tools:
• Create a wellness road map. Drivers are familiar with getting from point A to point B and their health is the same. Provide them with a road map showing how you’re going to help them improve their fitness, diet and overall health.
• Create a company wellness manual.
• Select and certify a commercial driver license wellness coach.
• Train the trainers. They need to be your first line of defense.
• As part of their pre-trip checks, remind drivers to pack healthy, high-energy foods.
• Display wellness posters throughout your facilities and publish driver wellness content in all your publications on a regular basis.
In other words, change the culture!
Las Vegas-based Rolling Strong provides health, wellness and fitness services to the transportation industry.