Comment: Fit for the road

By: David Boyce, CEO, NZ Trucking Association


NZ Trucking Association explains some measures truck drivers can take to improve their health and well-being

Trucking can be a great career option. You can earn good money, there are plenty of jobs available with the opportunity to grow your career, you can work for yourself, and you can travel the country.

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On the other hand, one of the downsides is that it can be easy for you to not take care of yourself while you are out on the road. Drivers need to be energised, alert, and focused on the road.

Poor health or physical condition can impact a driver’s ability to perform their job safely and may make them a hazard to not only themselves but also to fellow workers or others on the road. So what measures can truck drivers take to improve their health and well-being?

Getting enough quality sleep

Fatigue can be a major risk factor in crashes. Fatigue can occur when you have not had enough sleep but can also be caused by untreated sleeping disorders, such as sleep apnoea, or by other factors, including medications, alcohol, drugs, or irregular work patterns including shift work.

There are many symptoms of fatigue.  If you find yourself having difficulty focusing, yawning repeatedly or rubbing your eyes, daydreaming, missing exits, forgetting past kilometres, or having trouble keeping your head up, then you may be fatigued.

If this is the case, you should make time to rest; the only cure for fatigue is sleep. However, if you feel tired even after sleeping well, make time to visit a doctor who may be able to diagnose any other underlying health issues.

Choosing healthier food options

It is easy to snack throughout the day on convenient junk foods that are high in calories, fat, and sodium. These foods might keep you going, but eating such foods to often can contribute to obesity, lower energy levels, and may even cause more serious problems such as heart disease in the long run.

Instead, bring healthy snacks with you to eat on the go. You could use this as an opportunity to get your daily intake of fruit and vegetables. Any fruit or vegetable that will not deteriorate on the road makes for a good snacking option.

Dried fruits and nuts are another good option and can provide you with that quick boost of energy you need to stay focused, and the protein in nuts can be good for quelling hunger. If you have a fridge in your cab, yoghurt and berries could be another good option.

Avoid caffeinated or sugary drinks

While a small amount of caffeine may not be bad for you, relying on it to get through the day is unhealthy. Juices and soft drinks tend to be full of sugar, which is a leading cause of obesity, diabetes, and can have a negative impact on your heart’s health. Sugar can also be a cause for high blood pressure. The best option is to bring a refillable bottle of water.

Make time to exercise

Due to the nature of truck driving, drivers typically don’t get enough exercise. Establishing a basic exercise routine is a great way to improve your well-being and make you safer behind the wheel.

Exercising and making healthier choices can not only make a huge difference in improving your weight but it can also reduce stress and boost your body’s ability to fight off diseases and chronic conditions. Regular stretching can also ensure that you keep your body limber and can help to relieve muscle or back pain.

Manage your mental well-being

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Working long hours, being away from family, workplace, and financial stress, not getting enough sleep, not exercising, poor diet, drugs and alcohol problems, and other factors can all negatively impact your mental health.

Mental health problems can be difficult to recognise, as the symptoms can vary a lot between people, and some people may hide what they feel to avoid what others might think about them. Not managing your mental health can lead to negative thoughts and may lead to depression or anxiety issues, or, in extreme cases, even suicide. 

Don’t ignore the early warning signs. Changes in personality, mood swings, lack of personal care, lack of interest in things you used to enjoy, substance abuse, sleep problems, increased anxiety, loss of appetite or overeating, increased isolation, and
self-harming are all possible symptoms of mental health issues.

If you think you are facing problems, don’t keep it to yourself; reach out for help. Once you have identified the underlying issues, it becomes much easier to treat and manage.

Health and wellness programmes for truck drivers

The New Zealand Trucking Association operates the Safety MAN Road Safety Truck, which runs two interactive programmes: ‘Share the Road with Big Trucks’ and ‘Healthy Truck Driver’.

Share the Road with Big Trucks focuses on raising awareness and understanding between all road users and shares tips on how to share the road safely with big trucks. The Healthy Truck Driver programme is designed to help drivers identify the symptoms and causes of common truck driver health issues.

The programme explains symptoms in broad terms and offers tips to help improve the driver’s health and well-being.

If you would like the Safety MAN to visit your workplace to talk to your employees about driver health, contact the team through their website roadsafetytruck.co.nz.

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