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OOIDA, others to explore trucking health issues

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, in conjunction with Wayne State University, federal agencies and others, recently examined reasons why truckdrivers endure more health and safety-related deaths and injuries than other professions.

The event took place April 24-25 at the Detroit Airport Doubletree Hotel. Presenters included academics, researchers and industry representatives.

Michael Belzer, associate professor and academic director at the College of Urban, Labor and Metropolitan Affairs, Wayne State University, was the conference coordinator. Belzer also is a member of the OOIDA Foundation Advisory Board. The Foundation provided the majority of matching funds to co-sponsor the event, along with the Teamsters.

In a related development, U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao said March 17 that data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed work loss in 2001 due to work injuries were down, but truckdrivers and nurses, among other workers, were bucking the trend.

“Truckdrivers, laborers, nurses and nursing aides, and other employees continue to suffer high rates of injuries and illnesses in their workplaces. We must find ways to reduce the hazards that these workers experience and make their workplaces safer and healthier,” Chao said.

In addition, the death rate among truckdrivers is higher than in other professions.

“We know from raw numbers we are one of the largest groups of workers who lose their lives while on the job,” Todd Spencer, executive vice president of OOIDA, said. “Hundreds die every year in vehicle crashes and others in trucking-related accidents, but far more drivers appear to die prematurely — and they die at far younger ages — than other classes of workers. So we want to look at the work environment and contributing factors other than vehicle crashes that cause premature death.”

Range of topics on the agenda
Epidemiologists and scientists from the Centers for Disease Control, the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration were well represented. There was also a fairly large group of international experts that made presentations. Researchers from Sweden, France, Germany and Australia shared what they have observed in their countries.

Some topics: exposure to hazardous materials and conditions, fatigue, inadequate and disrupted sleep, and the health toll of constant stress caused by low pay and long hours.

“This conference will not provide the answers to our industry’s health and safety problems. Its end product was a formalized research agenda which will lead to identifying the underlying health questions concerning truckers,” Spencer said.

“It will take an organized effort to collect and interpret truckdriver data. However, we are confident it can be accomplished. It has been done successfully in other occupations, and it’s way past time for it to be done in ours.”

by Dick Larsen, senior editor Dick Larsen can be reached at dlarsen@landlinemag.com; John Siebert, OOIDA Foundation project manager, contributed to this article.

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