Archive for category stress

Stress Less, Feel Better

Image of person with his head up high and eyes close with a title "Stop Stress In Its Tracks"
Image source: American Heart Association

Driving a truck requires being ready to take quick, sensible action at any time. Responding wrongly to a traffic hazard or other dangerous work condition can end in serious injuries, death, and costly damage. But maintaining a constant high level of readiness can be a challenge when workplace stress diminishes a driver’s mental and physical health. Medical research increasingly shows that chronic stress can raise the risk of mental and physical health problems. Prolonged stress can cause a driver to become a risk to themselves, their co-workers, and other motorists. Trucking companies can reduce workplace stress by including stress management and training in their safety programs.

Stress Factors and Symptoms for Truck Drivers

Truck drivers experience stress from several sources. Recent studies have listed the following factors as leading stressors among truck drivers:

  • Long routes and social isolation
  • Abrupt schedule changes, rotating schedules, long detention times, and tight deadlines
  • Compliance with hours of service regulations
  • Traffic delays and adverse road and weather conditions
  • Road rage and fear of violence
  • Vehicle noise, equipment vibration, and temperature extremes
  • Transporting hazardous freight

Signs and symptoms of stress include:

  • Fatigue
  • Digestive problems
  • Anxiety, headaches, and depression
  • Sleep problems
  • Weight gain
  • Memory and concentration issues
  • High blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke
  • Social withdrawal
  • Job dissatisfaction
  • Workplace violence
  • Alcohol or drug abuse

Stress Management for Driver Safety, Health, and Wellness

A trucking company can reduce workplace stress by including a stress management and training plan in their safety program. Having such a plan can help employees identify workplace stress, its sources, and its effects on their safety, health, and wellness. It should also provide stress prevention and control methods for employees. Effective workplace stress management can improve driver health and wellness, equipment operation, attendance, productivity, employee retention, morale, and job satisfaction.

Stress management methods include:

  • Improving work schedules and driving routes that are more compatible with demands and responsibilities outside the job
  • Providing health, vacation, and retirement benefits
  • Balancing work and family life
  • Teamwork
  • Regular medical exams
  • Taking breaks and getting enough sleep
  • Eating healthy food and staying hydrated
  • Exercise
  • Meditation
  • Preventing job hazards
  • Having a vehicle maintenance program
  • Arranging safe lodging when needed
  • Providing ergonomic equipment and well-fitting PPE

Plan a stress management plan for your safety program using these resources:

Keep Trucking Safe:

Dealing with Stress at Work

Got Stress? poster

Managing COVID-19’s Impacts on Driver Stress

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health:

Stress. . .at Work

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

Workplace Stress Management

American Heart Association

Stress Management

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COVID-19 Stress Management for Truck Drivers

Truck drivers must always be ready to take quick, sensible action at any time behind the wheel. A wrong response to an emerging traffic hazard or other dangerous work condition can cause serious injuries, death, and costly damage. But keeping a constant high level of readiness can be a challenge when job stress diminishes a driver’s mental and physical health. As the coronavirus outbreak interrupts established work routines and expectations, it can quickly increase previous levels of job stress among truck drivers.  

Medical research shows that chronic job stress under normal everyday driving conditions can raise the risk of psychological, cardiovascular, and musculoskeletal health problems. It can also worsen preexisting medical problems. A driver having these problems may pose a risk to themselves, their co-workers, and other motorists. The risk may grow if fear and anxiety caused by COVID-19 (coronavirus) intensify job stress.

Stress Management for Driver Safety, Health, and Wellness

One of the best ways for trucking companies to help drivers cope with job stress at any time is to have a stress management and training plan in their safety programs. Following such a plan can help employees identify workplace stress, its sources, and its effects on their safety, health, and wellness. It should also show management and employees how to prevent and control stress. Effective job stress management can improve employee health and wellness, equipment operation, attendance, productivity, employee retention, morale, and job satisfaction.

Use the attached tip sheet and following resources to help you get started.

Keep Trucking Safe:

Managing COVID-19’s Impacts on Driver Stress

Dealing with Stress at Work

Got Stress? poster

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health:

Stress. . .at Work

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

Workplace Health and Job Stress Management

 

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Take a Deep Breath, Don’t Stress

Truck drivers must be fit to operate equipment and to take quick, sensible action at any time behind the wheel. Social, mental, and physical stressors are key causes of fatigue and many serious health problems that can impair a driver’s ability to think clearly and work safely.

Held in April, Stress Awareness Month is a great time to educate and train your drivers about the dangers of chronic job stress. Since 1991, the annual event has been spreading public awareness about the causes of stress, physical and mental impacts of stress, and ways to control stress. The American Institute of Stress (AIS) reports that around 90% of all primary care visits are for stress-related disorders from stomach problems to heart disease. Job related stress also costs American businesses about $150 billion a year.

 

Job Stress for Truck Drivers

Health research shows that job stress is a major problem that has worsened over the decades. According to the AIS, the main causes of job stress include workload pressures, people issues, work-life balance, and lack of job security. In addition, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration lists the following factors as leading stressors of truck drivers:

 

  • Long haul routes.
  • Abrupt schedule changes.
  • Rotating work schedules.
  • Tight deadlines.
  • Traffic delays.
  • Vehicle noise.
  • Equipment vibration.
  • Temperature extremes.
  • Hazardous freight. 
  • The following problems are signs and symptoms of stress:
  • Feeling anxious, irritable, or depressed.
  • Apathy, loss of interest in work.
  • Problems sleeping.
  • Fatigue.
  • Trouble concentrating.
  • Muscle tension or headaches.
  • Stomach problems.
  • Social withdrawal.
  • Loss of sex drive.
  • Using alcohol or drugs to cope.

 

Stress Management for Driver Safety and Health

A comprehensive workplace safety program for trucking companies should include a stress plan to maintain the wellness and alertness of drivers on the road. Stress and fatigue reduction improves safe equipment operation, attendance, productivity, employee retention, morale, job satisfaction, and maximizes alertness and long-term mental and physical health. Incorporate stress and fatigue reduction methods into normal, everyday management functions to balance workload demands and expectations with drivers’ abilities and needs.

 

Stress and fatigue reduction methods include:

 

  • Appropriate planning and rotation of work schedules, job tasks, and overtime.
  • Building positive work relationships.
  • Giving positive feedback and encouragement.
  • Delegating control over work processes.
  • Balancing work and family life.
  • Regular medical checkups.
  • Arranging safe lodging accommodations where required.
  • Ergonomic equipment and well-fitting PPE.
  • Improving work environment conditions such as providing thermal comfort, reducing noise, ample lighting, and clean break areas and restrooms.
  • Scheduling meal periods and rest breaks.
  • Getting enough sleep.
  • Healthy food and exercise.
  • Training drivers to identify and prevent stress and fatigue.

 

Check out the following links to help plan a Stress Awareness Month event or to design a stress management program for your drivers:

 

Keep Trucking Safe (TIRES project):

Dealing with Stress at Work

Got Stress? poster

 

American Institute of Stress:

Workplace Stress

 

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health:

Stress. . .at Work

Suicide prevention

By Jena Williams 

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As we have been recently rocked by the loss to suicide of one of America’s best known comedians, it seems a good time to bring up the topic of suicide here in our blog. While truck drivers are not at higher risk for suicide, according to an article in the New York Times, suicide can be contagious, especially in the wake of losing someone famous or well loved. This is why it’s important to recognize the warning signs, both in yourself and in others. Help is waiting. All you need to do is ask for it:

When someone is considering suicide the pain in their life feels unbearable. It’s so important to hold on to the knowledge that things won’t stay this bad. It will get better and there are people that do care enough to help.

I’ve spoken to people that have attempted suicide after something horrible happened that they didn’t think they could get past. Today life is not perfect, but it is better and they are so grateful to be alive.

I’ve spoken to people that have lost family members to suicide. They have never gotten over the loss or the guilt that they carry, even if the suicide had nothing to do with them. Someone loves you and will have a hole in their life forever without you. You mean more to someone than you can possibly imagine.

Signs to watch for from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:

  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves.
  • Looking for a way to kill themselves, such as searching online or buying a gun.
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live.
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain.
  • Talking about being a burden to others.
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs.
  • Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly.
  • Sleeping too little or too much.
  • Withdrawing or isolating themselves.
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge.
  • Displaying extreme mood swings.

With the rise in social media such as Facebook, more people are posting their intentions to commit suicide online. If you see any of the warning signs in a posting, encourage the person to call the suicide prevention number at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). If you are a real life friend, talk in person to them about calling or call yourself. It’s completely confidential. You don’t have to carry the weight of your pain alone.

More information regarding suicidal postings on social media: http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/gethelp/online.aspx

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What lessons can we learn from the tragedy in Oso, Washington?

By Jena Williams

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After a long, sad week, we are still trying to wrap our minds around the tragedy of the SR 530 landslide disaster, of those who were killed or not yet found, of the miraculous rescues and the heroes, and the realizations that survivors have lost everything. What can we learn or take away from it all? Can this reminder of the unpredictably shortness of life impact us, even if we are watching the drama unfold from the sidelines?

I believe it can. It can remind us to take out time for those we love, to put people before tasks and to mend the fences where we can.

The example of a regular day becoming a tragedy of unsaid goodbyes can remind us to give hugs and to give forgiveness. Both are shown in numerous studies to relieve stress, which will help your health in general and allow you to function better in all aspects of your life.

It is worth it to hug your loved ones (even the difficult ones) and to apologize early (even if they are mostly to blame). Your steps will be lighter each day and so will theirs.

Helpful links:

American Red Cross: http://www.redcross.org/news/article/Red-Cross-Responds-to-Washington-Mudslide

Information on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml

How to handle unresolved conflict in your family: http://stress.about.com/od/relationships/qt/unresolved.htm

*Image:  Peanuts creator Charles Schulz

Feeling Stressed?

By Jena Williams

Exercise might be the best medicine. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Virtually any form of exercise, from aerobics to yoga, can act as a stress reliever.” That means that even a 10-minute walk listening to music on your MP3 player can help you feel better.

Is it really that simple? Sure, why not!

If you get intimidated when you hear the word “exercise,” you are not alone. According the US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics only 16% of the US population ages 15 and over participate in a sport or exercise on an average day. That means 84% of us can improve our health, whether physical or emotional, by just committing to a small amount of additional movement each day.

Remember the movie What about Bob? One of the main characters, Bob Wiley, was a man of many phobias, one of them likely agoraphobia which is characterized by a fear of leaving the house. Bob coached himself to leave his apartment and to get in the elevator with “baby steps.”  I think we can do that too. Exercise does not need to be a commitment to the gym or to running a 5k. It can be a 10-minute stroll around a building or your truck to release the stress of the day.

Baby steps are a great place to start.

Link to Mayo Clinic article: http://www.mayoclinic.org/exercise-and-stress/ART-20044469?pg=1

What would you do to keep an experienced driver for ten more years?

By Jena Williams

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently published the results of a study: Occupational Highway Transportation Deaths Among Workers Aged ≥55 Years – United States, 2003-2010. The study found that on-the-job highway transportation death rates increased substantially at age 65, especially in transportation and warehousing industries and in transportation and material moving occupations.

It might seem that the finding of this study is, well, obvious. To be blunt, we tend to expect older workers to die more. But I would caution you to dig a little deeper because I think there is some important information to be gleaned here.

Consider that in the general population, these types of deaths only begin to increase substantially at age 75 years.  Why would deaths increase a decade earlier for workers?

There are many possible reasons and theories for this. I’ll present mine here and hope you’ll add yours in the comments.

The editor recommends interventions to benefit older drivers. (I would argue that these interventions would actually benefit all drivers!) The first is that we need to do a better job of selecting and adapting vehicles to accommodate drivers.

There are many other recommendations as well, such as less driving, less nighttime driving, etc., but I would like to explore the idea of adapting vehicles to accommodate drivers a little more.

Consider that before most people buy a personal vehicle, they sit in it and take it for test drive. Generally, people don’t buy a vehicle that isn’t comfortable to them. Unfortunately, comfort may not be a priority when many companies purchase their vehicles. Instead fuel economy, aerodynamics, and cost take the forefront. Plus, a company’s workforce comes in all shapes and sizes, so initially tailoring vehicles may seem nearly impossible.

One might argue that physical comfort doesn’t really have anything to do with crash-related deaths, but I would disagree. Fatigue is fatigue, whether brought on by long hours or awkward postures. It is still worth considering.

As the article states and we already know, “…older workers bring a wealth of skills and experience to the workplace…” I think we can agree that keeping an experienced worker for an additional ten years is valuable in a market with a declining labor pool.

What kind of investment are you willing to make in a skilled worker to keep them around for another ten years?  Would you improve the stairs into the cab? Would you add or improve handholds? Would you improve adjustability in the seat? Would you improve the location of the steering wheel? All of these can be associated with excess strain and fatigue on the body, potentially increasing crash risk.

And one more question, would you ask them what they need to make their job safer and easier?

These are just some of my thoughts. What are yours?

Link to full report: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6233a1.htm?s_cid=mm6233a1_e

And for drivers – always wear your seatbelt. Always.

Security

By Jena Williams

No truck parkingEveryone has a fundamental need for safety and security. If we don’t feel safe, stress levels rise, affecting many systems of the body, including blood pressure, gastro-intestinal, and emotional health.

Whether it is the economy, apathy, or societal indifference, it appears that theft is on the rise. My parents have lived in the same house for over 25 years without a major incident. However, over the summer, their house was burglarized and now they are fighting identity theft. Last week our cars were prowled and my brother’s sheds were broken into. We all live in different areas of town. Our family has definitely felt the surge in crime and lack of security. We feel violated and stressed even though we never came face-to-face with our perpetrators.

Jason Rivenburg was not so lucky. Many of you know his story, but for those who don’t, Jason was a truck driver delivering a load to a South Carolina delivery site. He was ahead of schedule and not allowed to deliver early so he needed to find a place to park and sleep for the night. Ultimately, he ended up parking his rig at an abandoned gas station. That night he was robbed and murdered for the $7 in his pocket.

Jason’s wife responded by lobbying for the passage of Jason’s Law to promote the use of existing government facilities like weigh stations and inspection sites to offer free and safe parking facilities. Jason’s Law was included and passed in the federal transportation bill. Although, this is an important first step to improve driver safety on the road, it leads to the question, is there anything else we can do to promote safety for drivers? And, most especially, safe places to park and rest.

Drivers, is it safe to park in Washington? Where? Is there a location where safe truck parking needs to be made available? Please let us know in the comments below.

More about Jason’s Law: http://jhlrivenburg.com/cgi/wp/

Bureau of Justice Statistics: http://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=4494

SHIFT into Health Gear

By Jena Williams

Several Washington trucking companies are currently participating in the SHIFT study. In the picture is Dr. Ryan Olson (principal investigator) and Kevin Bransford (graduate student in exercise physiology and research assistant) standing in front of the “RV of Science.”

SHIFT stands for “Safety & Health Involvement for Truckers, ” and it is focused on total worker health (eating, exercise, sleep, and safety). SHIFT is based at Oregon Health & Science University with funding from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute.

Since April of 2012, the RV of Science has been visiting trucking terminals on the I-5 corridor to enroll drivers. This study, which is projected to be the largest of its kind in U.S. history, plans to enroll 20 trucking terminals; 10 of those terminals will be enrolled by the end of 2012.

The main purpose of this five-year study is to learn how drivers manage their health and body weight over time. The project will also discover how stress and social support impact driver body weight and health.

So what’s in it for drivers?  At participating companies, each driver who volunteers will receive three free health assessments over an 18-month period.

Drivers are also paid for their time, get a SHIFT “swag bag,” and are entered into lottery drawings.  Based on random selection, some drivers also participate in a supplemental weight-loss competition and health-promotion program.

For more information and for public links to driver-health resources, please visit www.ohsushift.com. To participate in the SHIFT study, companies must operate at least two terminals with 50-100 drivers each.

While the majority of terminals have already been selected for the study, interested company leaders may contact Dr. Olson directly to discuss study requirements and opportunities at olsonry@ohsu.edu.