Truck Driver Job-Related Injuries in Overdrive


Read this article in Spanish. Lee este artículo en español.   Tractor-trailer drivers account for 1 out of every 3 workers killed on the job When you think of dangerous jobs, what comes to your mind? Police officers, firefighters and construction workers might top the list for most people. Tractor-trailer truck drivers probably don’t come to mind, but Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that driving a truck is risky in ways you might not expect. For example:

  • One out of every six American workers killed on the job is a tractor-trailer truck driver.
  • In 2014 alone, 761 tractor-trailer truck drivers were killed while working, which also marks the fifth year in a row that the number of truck driver fatalities has increased.
  • The vast majority of these deaths, 78 percent, were caused by transportation incidents.

Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers also have the highest number of nonfatal injuries and illnesses that require days off from work across all occupations (a total of 55,710 in 2014). They rank 6th among the top occupations with highest incidence rates of nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses involving days away from work, after police officers and sheriffs, firefighters, highway maintenance workers, correctional officers and nursing assistants. Another way to look at this statistic is that truck drivers had nearly one out of every 20 injury and illness cases nationwide that needed time off work to recover. In fact, tractor-trailer truck drivers are three times more likely than the typical American worker to have an injury or illness that required days off from work. The injuries that are most likely to cause them to miss work result from slips, trips and falls, followed by overexertion. And just how do workers driving tractor-trailer trucks overexert themselves? Pushing and pulling containers; lifting heavy items while loading and unloading the truck; and getting in and out of such a large vehicle routinely are all ways that drivers can easily overdo it on the job. Among all occupations, tractor-trailer truck drivers also ranked No. 3 on the list of workers suffering from musculoskeletal disorders (injuries or disorders of the muscles, nerves, tendons, joints, cartilage, or spinal discs) that required days off from work in 2014. Overexertion, including repeatedly getting in and out of the truck and assisting with loading and unloading, and prolonged sitting and maintaining the same position (sometimes with poor posture) while driving the truck, are all causes. And when truck drivers get hurt on the job it takes them longer to recover. Half of all truck drivers required at least 20 days away from work after an incident before returning, compared with all other occupations in which half of all workers returned to work within nine days. Among tractor-trailer truck drivers who had to take days off work due to being injured, 42 percent missed more than a month (31 or more days) of work. The Transportation Department’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is charged with reducing the number and the severity of crashes involving large commercial trucks and buses out on our nation’s public highways and roads.  In addition to its regulatory oversight of commercial motor carriers, FMCSA has online resources to help everyone share our roadways safely.  FMCSA’s safety education program for all vehicles, and including bicyclists and pedestrians, is called Our Roads, Our Responsibility.” More information about preventing musculoskeletal disorders in the workplace is available from our Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Data about work-related fatalities, injuries and illnesses can be found on the Bureau of Labor Statistics website. We hope that this kind of detailed information will help employers improve conditions for tractor-trailer drivers, as well as empower workers with knowledge about the hazards they’re likely to encounter. If you have questions or need additional information about this data, please contact us. Sean Smith and Patrick Harris are economists at the Bureau of Labor Statistics. BLS employees Nicole Nestoriak and Erin Huband also contributed to this post.  

Cuidado con las lesiones relacionadas con el manejo de camiones

¿Qué ocupaciones le vienen a la mente cuando piensa en trabajos peligrosos? Muchos quizás piensen que la lista la encabezan policías, bomberos o trabajadores de la construcción. Probablemente no se piensa de primeras en la conducción de camiones con remolques pero datos de la Oficina de Estadísticas Laborales muestran que la conducción camiones tiene riesgos que quizás no conozcan. Por ejemplo:

  • Uno de cada seis trabajadores estadounidenses muertos en el trabajo es conductor de camión pesado con remolque.
  • Sólo en el 2014, 761 conductores de camiones con remolque murieron mientras trabajaban, lo que también indicó el quinto año consecutivo en el que el número de muertes de conductores de camiones ha aumentado.
  • La gran mayoría de estas muertes, el 78 por ciento, fueron causadas por incidentes de transporte.

De entre todas las ocupaciones (un total de 55.710 en 2014), los conductores de camiones pesados y con remolques también representan el mayor número de lesiones no fatales y enfermedades que requieren días fuera del trabajo. Se sitúan en el sexto lugar entre las principales ocupaciones con mayores tasas de incidencia de accidentes laborales no mortales y de enfermedades que implican días fuera del trabajo luego de agentes y oficiales de policía, bomberos, trabajadores de mantenimiento de carreteras, funcionarios de prisiones y auxiliares de enfermería. Otra manera de mirar esta estadística es que los conductores de camiones tuvieron casi uno de cada 20 casos de lesiones y enfermedades en todo el país que requirieron días de baja para recuperarse. De hecho, los conductores de camiones de remolque son tres veces más propensos que el típico trabajador americano de sufrir una lesión o enfermedad que requiere días de baja. Las lesiones que son más susceptibles de causar que se pierdan días de trabajo son resultado de resbalones, tropiezos y caídas, seguidas de esfuerzo excesivo. Y ¿cómo realizan esfuerzos excesivos los conductores camiones con remolque? Empujando y tirando de contenedores; levantando objetos pesados durante la carga y descarga del camión; y entrando y saliendo de un vehículo tan grande rutinariamente. Estas son algunas de las formas en las que los conductores pueden fácilmente sobreexcederse en el trabajo. Entre todas las ocupaciones, los conductores de camines con remolque también figuraron en el puesto número 3 en la lista de los trabajadores que sufren trastornos musculo-esqueléticos (lesiones o trastornos de músculos, nervios, tendones, articulaciones, cartílagos, o discos de la columna vertebral) que requirieron días de baja laboral en el 2014. Las causas de sobreesfuerzo excesivo incluyen entrar y salir del camión repetidamente, asistir con la carga y descarga, estar sentado durante largos periodos y con la misma posición (a veces la inadecuada) mientras se conduce el camión. Y cuando los conductores de camiones se lastiman en el trabajo tardan más tiempo en recuperarse. La mitad de los conductores de camiones necesitaron al menos 20 días de baja después de un incidente antes de regresar en comparación con todas las demás ocupaciones, en las que la mitad de los trabajadores regresaron a sus trabajos dentro de nueve días. De entre los conductores de camión con remolques que tuvieron que pedir baja laboral por estar lesionado, el 42 por ciento perdió más de un mes (31 días o más) de trabajo. La Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration del Departamento de Transporte se encarga de reducir el número y la gravedad de las colisiones que involucran grandes camiones comerciales y autobuses en las carreteras y vías públicas de nuestro país. Además de su supervisión normativa de vehículos de transporte comercial, la FMCSA tiene recursos en línea para ayudar a todos a compartir nuestras carreteras con seguridad. El programa de educación para la seguridad de la FMCSA para todos los vehículos, incluyendo ciclistas y peatones, se llama “Nuestras Carreteras, Nuestra Responsabilidad." En la Administración de Seguridad y Salud Ocupacional hay más información disponible sobre la prevención de los trastornos musculo esqueléticos en el lugar de trabajo. Los datos sobre víctimas mortales relacionadas con el trabajo, lesiones y enfermedades se pueden encontrar en la página web de la Oficina de Estadísticas Laborales. Esperamos que este tipo de información detallada ayude a los empleadores a mejorar las condiciones para los conductores de camiones con remolque, y ayude a los trabajadores a adquirir los conocimientos acerca de los peligros que les pueden afectar. Si tiene alguna pregunta o necesita información adicional acerca de esta información, por favor póngase en contacto con nosotros. Sean Smith y Patrick Harris son economistas del Oficina de Estadísticas Laborales. Los empleados de esa oficina Nicole Nestoriak y Erin Huband también contribuyeron a esta nota. Siga el departamento a Twitter @USDOL_Latino y Facebook @USDOLLatino.


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Comments

Commercial driver statistics should include the type incident and the type of equipment operated. Road drivers are exposed to different risks than city pick up & delivery drivers that run pallet jacks or forklifts. Recycling, scrap or waste haulers, dump truck drivers and construction delivery drivers are exposed to more risk of overturn. amputation, enclosed space or entanglement. All of these injuries & fatal incidents should be listed in a separate classification as non-traffic related driver incidents. This would give an accurate representation of the statistics and be more relevant for training and enforcement.

Hi Jean, Thanks for your candor, but I felt the article was more hype and inflammatory than educational. Doyle Cole articulates my point by drilling into different questions and aspects of the issue...which were nowhere to be found in the article.

It looks like Sean ran a nearly identical article in a BLS newsletter in April, 2015. In both instances, it is immensely clear (from his industry nomenclature) that he is not that familiar with the trucking industry, nor of the critical factors associated with large truck crashes.

If he were, he'd use DOT truck classifications, heavy- vs medium-duty, or at least the "large truck" definition used by FMCSA. He also fails to use/cite US DOT data on the causes and critical factors that underlay truck -involved fatalities. Between 55% and 75% of crashes involving two or more vehicles, the "other" driver was at fault. In which case, Sean should have decried the lack of safety attention on cars & motorcycles by NHTSA. I think it would be good for Sean to leave DC for a day, climb into a class 8 truck for the first time, and see what the real story is out on the roads.

Thank you for this article and bringing attention to this issue. My husband drives a truck and also unloads to several stops each day. So not only am I always worried about him being involved in an accident on the road, I also worry about his falling due to a bad loaded truck or dangerous equipment. His largest complaint is other car drivers on the road that do not understand how he can not stop on a dime and needs more time to make a maneuver. Most of these drivers work this field for years and keep going later in life. They need all the protection you can provide! Keep safe out there! Teach your kids to respect the tractor trailer on the road when they start to drive. These guys are what keeps the American Economy going, and they work so hard.

Why would anyone want to write such a negative comment? The authors were not writing a legal document , industry-specific paper or a book; they were writing a brief article for the general population. I read the article and found it informative, even though I'm not in the trucking industry. I guess I didn't miss the industry "nomenclature". Those that did have plenty of links in the article to click on for more information. Great job authors.

Most people are probably aware that truck driving is a tough and demanding occupation. When thinking about driving large commercial trucks, long hours of maneuvers with intense concentration on roads and rear-view mirrors, as well as loading and unloading may come to mind. Smith and Harris (2016) provided a very interesting and informative entry on the Department of Labor’s blog that described in detail the injury statistics resulting from this dangerous yet crucial line of work. For example, Smith and Harris noted that “One out of every six American workers killed on the job is a tractor-trailer driver,” and 78% of these fatalities occurred during transportation operations. Both the frequency and severity of injuries noted by Smith and Harris are significant enough to continue moving forward with new and existing risk reduction strategies. One common and widely recognized approach to addressing workplace risk is to follow what is referred to in the safety community as the “Hierarchy of Controls” (ANSI/AIHA Z10, 2012, p. 53). According to the Z10 standard, the preferred method to approach hazard reduction is to consider the most effective controls before moving down the hierarchy toward the least effective measures. The Z10 standard importantly notes that “each step is considered less effective than the one before it.” Applying this control strategy and focusing on the high number of serious injuries and fatalities resulting from transportation incidents as described by Smith and Harris can be helpful for the commercial tractor-trailer industry. The most effective controls involve an elimination of hazards, followed, in descending order, by substitution, engineering controls, warnings, administrative controls, and finally the least effective control measure of using personal protective equipment (PPE) (ANSI/AIHA Z10, 2012, p. 53).

Addressing hazards should always be conducted by considering the most effective methods first, but in this review of truck driving risks, controls will be discussed in reverse order, that is, from least effective to most effective to help illustrate the "effectiveness" progression of each Hierarchy step. According to ANSI/AIHA Z10 (2012), personal protective equipment (PPE) is the least effective control (p. 53). OSHA (2017) describes PPE as “equipment worn to minimize exposure to hazards that cause serious workplace injuries and illnesses.” The most common PPE used for truck drivers is the seat belt. A study published in 2014 indicated that approximately 84% of truck drivers used seatbelts (Fedaral Motor Carrier Safety Administration [FMCSA], 2014a). According to the American Trucking Association [ATA] (2017), roughly 3.5 million truck drivers are employed in the United States, which means that over one-half million (16% of drivers) truck drivers on the road are not wearing seatbelts. Additionally, users must actively fasten their seatbelt, and in some cases, adjust their seatbelt for correct fit, which introduces the opportunity for human errors and omissions. Seatbelts have advanced over the years from simple user adjusted lap belts to the now common combination lap/shoulder belts with automatic slack adjustment capability. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety [IIHS] (2017) notes that one recent advancement in seatbelts is the sensor-driven belt tensioner that cinches the belt tighter during accidents. IIHS also mentions seatbelts that inflate automatically to increase the surface area of the belts during crashes thus reducing the forces on the occupant. Typical of many forms of PPE in general, seatbelts are a crucial safety component, but despite the present and future advancements, are not very effective at preventing accidents. They are designed primarily to reduce the severity of injuries after incidents occur.

The next step up the Hierarchy from PPE in effectiveness of reducing injuries are controls referred to as “administrative” (ANSI/AIHA Z10, 2012, p 53). Z10 describes “training” and “procedures” as common examples of administrative controls. In the truck driving industry, drivers must pass knowledge and skills tests to acquire licenses and undergo special training when seeking specific license endorsements such as those needed to transport hazardous materials or drive school buses. Additionally, many drivers undergo additional training to help enhance their skills and awareness. There are even driver simulation units available for drivers to practice difficult situations such as driving on snow and ice, or emergency maneuvers such as loss of brakes or traction. Mandatory inspection procedures such as the required daily and periodic inspections are used to help ensure that vehicles are in safe operating condition. Personal screening procedures such as medical exams, substance abuse screenings, and background checks are also conducted. The general purpose of these administrative controls is to help prevent accidents from occurring through adequate skills, heightened awareness, and qualification. Like PPE, administrative controls are still susceptible to human error; however, a qualified and skilled workforce resulting from training and procedures should be able to prevent some injuries through early recognition and avoidance of hazards.

Moving up the Hierarchy of Controls, the accident prevention category one level above administrative controls involves the use of warnings (ANSI/AIHA Z10, 2012, p. 53). Z10 provides some very basic examples of warnings as “signs, backup alarms, horns, and labels.” Like PPE and administrative controls, warnings require drivers to actively take actions to avoid mishaps, although the advantage of warnings is that employees are reminded to do so. Warning systems that can help prevent tractor-trailer accidents have improved significantly over the last few years due to technological advances, and are much more sophisticated than the examples provided by Z-10. Active warnings in the form of cameras and/or sensors now exist for hazards such as backing, lane departure, tire pressure, tire temperature, forward collisions, freezing conditions, and blind spots. Drivers are typically alerted to the warnings through any combination of live video displays, dash lights, vibrations, and audible alarms. Despite the advanced technology associated with modern vehicle warning systems, human error is still possible for a number of reasons such as becoming distracted, desensitized, or simply choosing to ignore the indicators; therefore, higher level controls are still preferred.

As opposed to requiring drivers to actively participate and/or respond when using PPE, administrative controls, or warnings, engineering controls are passive in nature, that is, once installed they don’t require any deliberate actions other than maintaining the controls. Air brakes could be considered a type of engineering control and have been present on both medium and heavy-duty trucks for decades. Unlike hydraulic brakes used on passenger vehicles, a brake line failure results in the automatic application of the brakes. Like warnings, engineering controls have advanced significantly over the last few years and continue to do so. Automatic emergency braking (AEB) is a recently developed control that is starting to become more common on commercial trucks. AEB systems apply the brakes automatically when the driver doesn’t take adequate actions to avoid a forward collision (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration [NHTSA], 2017). According to the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute as noted in IIHS (2016a), AEB systems ”could reduce fatalities in rear-end crashes by 44 percent and injuries by 47 percent if all tractor-semitrailers were equipped with the technology.” Adaptive cruise control is another newer engineering control available in commercial trucks. Adaptive cruise control uses lasers or radar to automatically maintain a safe distance between the truck and the vehicles ahead (Cocoran, 2017). Lane keeping, a technology that automatically steers wandering vehicles back between the traffic lane markers, is currently available in passenger cars (NHTSA, 2017). This control may likely end up in heavy duty trucks as well. Engineering controls continue to be refined and advanced, and when used in conjunction with warnings, training, safe operating procedures, and PPE, these controls can be very effective injury prevention measures.

Progressing a step higher than engineering controls, substitution is viewed as the second most effective prevention measure in the Hierarchy of Controls (ANSI/AIHA Z10, 2012, p. 53). Z10 mentions substitution examples such as replacement of materials or hazards and reducing energy through lower speeds or lower forces. One of the most commonly touted substitution measures for commercial vehicles is to limit and/or lower speeds through the use of speed limiters. High speeds are commonly thought to increase the risk of serious injuries and fatalities for drivers. According to IIHS (2016b), 30,000 lives were lost due to increased speed limits in the 20-year period from 1993 to 2013. A substitution opportunity that may become available soon is to use a driving method known as “platooning” (Carey, 2017). In platooning, multiple trucks and drivers are somewhat “replaced” with automation and a single lead driver. Carey (2017) notes that platooning typically involves a convoy of trucks spaced between 50 and 80 feet apart (much closer than trucks are normally operated) in which the lead truck controls braking and acceleration automatically and instantaneously through a communication link with the other trucks. According to Peloton Technology (2017), a developer of this new concept, individual trucks are made safer because each truck in the convoy is equipped with “collision mitigations systems.” Peloton notes that “Always-on radar sensors detect stopped or slowed vehicles far down the road to alert the driver to apply the brakes when needed.” In addition to the potential direct safety benefits of operating as a single, partially automated unit, the ability of the platoon trucks to travel in very close proximity can leave more highway space available resulting in less road congestion. Another example of substitution that is still in the field-trial phase involves commercial trucks that are controlled almost exclusively by automation, but have a driver in the cab ready to take over in specific situations that the sensors and computers are not designed to handle (Freedman, 2017). According to Freedman, an automated semi tractor-trailer hauled a load of beer 120 miles on Interstate 25 in Colorado from Ft. Collins to Colorado Springs last fall without an issue. Freedman noted that there was a driver in the cab, but the only time he drove the truck or touched any controls was when navigating city streets before and after the interstate. This semi-autonomous technology essentially substitutes the driver with sensors and computers when possible, thus decreasing the opportunity for human errors. Controls in the “substitution” category are rapidly advancing in the commercial truck driving industry, and although they don’t completely mitigate hazards, these options are important to consider when moving down the Hierarchy.

Preferable to substitution and all the other previously mentioned injury prevention strategies, which focused on reducing hazard risks, “elimination” means to eradicate or avoid the risks altogether, and is at the top of the Hierarchy of Controls (ANSI/AIHA Z10, 2012, p. 53). Applying “elimination” controls to hazards that may result in crashes to commercial truck drivers would involve completely eliminating hazards such as distractions and other human errors, weather, wildlife, motorists, roadway obstacles such as rocks and debris, railroad crossings and mechanical failures. While the risks of these types of hazards can be reduced through the control measures previously discussed, elimination of most driving hazards is nearly impractical unless driving becomes completely automated, with no humans in the truck. According to Muoio (2017), self-driving industry leaders OTTO (owned by Uber), Volvo, and Daimler have no plans to remove drivers from the cab entirely on public roads. Google’s now stand-alone company Waymo, apparently has similar plans (Stewart, 2017). Additionally, Embark, a self-driving truck company which recently partnered with Peterbilt (Peterbilt’s parent company also owns Kenworth), will have drivers available in their automated cabs as well (Etherington, 2017). However, a company named Starsky Robotics is approaching automation differently. According to Korosec (2017), Starsky is developing technology that uses a professional driver located in an office to remotely control unmanned trucks in difficult areas such as cities, but is able to place the vehicles in an autonomous mode, when appropriate, on highways. Currently though, Starsky is using human drivers in their cabs (Korosec 2017). Clearly, elimination of hazards is often the most difficult course of action, and the complexity of eradicating crash hazards in the commercial truck driving industry appear to be no exception. However, the effectiveness of ”elimination” demands that when addressing a hazard, this top-level control should always be the primary objective and first step of the mitigation process.

The statistics noted by Smith and Harris in the Department of Labor’s blog are startling. Addressing the injury statistics can be aided by using the Hierarchy of Controls. This is a recognized and preferred strategy to address safety risks, including serious injury and fatality hazards encountered by drivers of tractor-trailers. This systematic approach involves consideration and use of, when reasonably practicable, the most effective controls to address hazards. Applying this strategy to truck driving resulted in a description of some common controls already in use. Using this method also revealed significant technological advances, many of which are available now, that have potential to address hazards at all levels of the Hierarchy. These advances are especially impressive at the engineering, substitution, and in some cases, elimination control levels. Organizations and individuals in the truck driving industry have many options to help prevent serious injuries and fatalities and with the rapid advancements occurring in technology, will likely have many new choices in the next few years. Using the Hierarchy of Controls is a relatively simple method to help ensure that the most effective hazard reduction options for tractor-trailer drivers are taken into consideration.

The author is a Certified Safety Professional (CSP), and has been employed in the safety and health field for almost 24 years. Mr. Rupp has worked with the truck driving industry both as an employee and in a consulting role.

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