According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), workers in the trucking industry experienced the most fatalities of all occupations, accounting for approximately 12 percent of all worker deaths. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries reported that, in 2012, approximately 756 truck drivers died in work-related incidents. Additionally, workers in the trucking industry also experienced the highest number of non-fatal injuries compared to workers in any other occupation, with approximately 65,000 truck drivers suffering lost time injuries and illness in 2012.

These statistics show how important it is to understand and adequately respond to the safety hazards faced by truckers. This article will go over those hazards and outline steps for controlling them.

Who Counts as a Driver or Trucker?

According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), a truck driver or trucker is any worker who drives a truck with a capacity of more than 3 tons in order to transport materials to and from a specified destination. Truckers may also do jobs to keep the truck in working order.

What Are Some of the Common Trucker Injuries?

Based on data from the 2000 Bureau of Labor Statistics Injury and Illnesses Lost Work Day Statistics, some of the most common trucker injuries included:

What Events or Exposures Lead to Trucker Injuries?

Based on data from the 2000 Bureau of Labor Statistics Injury and Illnesses Lost Work Day Statistics, the events or exposures that lead to some of the most common trucker injuries included:

  • Overexertion (29 percent) – Truck drivers may suffer from back, leg, arm, and hand pain caused by uncomfortable seating for extended periods of time, as well as from other manual handling tasks.
  • Contact with objects or equipment (25 percent) – Truckers may get injured while doing field repairs.
  • Transportation accidents (12 percent) – Truck drivers are at an increased risk of road accidents due to prolonged hours spent driving. The risk of transportation accidents further increases at night, during inclement weather, and when facing poor road conditions.
  • Falling (11 percent) – Truckers may fall while climbing into and descending from a high truck.

What Are the Hazards Related to Truck Driving?

1. Accident Hazards

  • Fire hazards from the spilling and leaking of inflammable substances (for example, tank-trucks due to mechanical failure or collision).
  • Explosions, acute intoxication, or chemical burns caused by hazardous cargo, such as explosives and toxic substances.
  • Acute poisoning from exhaust gases, such as carbon monoxide (learn more about Carbon Monoxide: The Silent Killer).
  • Increased risk of vehicular accidents, especially for long-haul truck drivers.
  • Increased risk of fatigue due to lengthy driving periods (find out more about Distraction, Fatigue, and Impairment).
  • Slips, trips, and falls from a tall cabin, ladder, or trailer.
  • Danger of being crushed between trailers while trying to disengage one from the other.
  • Traumas due to physical overexertion (for example, when moving heavy pieces of cargo).

2. Physical Hazards

  • Prolonged exposure to engine noise greater than 80 dBA can result in immediate, severe headaches, as well as hearing loss in the long term.
  • Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation.
  • Exposure to extreme heat or cold climatic conditions can have potentially detrimental health effects (for example, heat stroke and frostbite).
  • Whole-body vibrations may impair musculoskeletal functions and contribute to the trucker’s fatigue.

3. Chemical Hazards

  • Exposure to toxic substances while transporting hazardous cargo.
  • Increased risk of skin diseases, such as dermatitis caused by chemicals.
  • Chronic effects caused by the inhalation of exhaust fumes.
  • Exposure to dust (for example, when driving on desert roads).

4. Biological Hazards

  • Increased risk of infection or contamination from biologically hazardous cargo.

5. Ergonomic Hazards

  • Prolonged driving in uncomfortable postures can increase the risk of lower back pain and other musculoskeletal disorders.
  • Visual discomfort caused by eye strain when driving on dark or poorly illuminated roads.

6. Psychosocial Hazards

  • Exposure to violence (for example, being the target of a crime aimed at valuable loads, as well as physical violence at roadside rest stops).
  • Increased levels of stress or psychological discomfort due to isolation, absence from home and family life, and the possibility of receiving unwelcome orders by cellular phone or radio communication equipment.

What Preventative Measures Can Truck Drivers Take to Ensure Their Safety and Well-being on the Job?

Here are a few simple but effective ways truckers can reduce their risk of injury or illness while working:

  • Learn and use safe lifting and moving techniques for heavy or awkward loads.
  • Use mechanical aids to assist lifting when possible.
  • Avoid breathing exhaust fumes near the vehicle.
  • Switch-off engine when parked, especially when in an enclosed area.
  • Protect your hands and body by wearing the appropriate personal protective clothing, such as chemical-resistant gloves, steel-toed boots, and overalls.
  • Ask your employer to install an ergonomically designed driver's seat
  • Take short, frequent breaks when required to drive for lengthy periods.
  • Attend training sessions to learn how to recognize and respond to the threat of violence.
  • Ask your employer to provide you with a personal alarm so that you can summon help when needed.

Drive Safely!

The majority of fatal injuries suffered by truck drivers are due to transportation accidents, while most of the non-fatal injuries resulted from overexertion, falls, and contact with objects and equipment. While the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (an agency within the U.S. Department of Transportation [DOT]) regulates the hours truckers are allowed to operate in the U.S., this regulation is only intended to reduce incidents that may result from tired or sleepy drivers (learn about The Unnerving Side Effects of Sleep Deprivation). Truck drivers themselves must, therefore, take responsibility not only to ensure their own safety and well-being on the road, but also that of their co-workers, pedestrians, and the general public.