Occupational Hazards in Commercial Trucking

Exhausted and tired truck driver sleeping behind the steering wheel. Fatigue after long night hour shifts that are a part of his routine driving. Unhealthy lifestyle of job with long hours on road.

Learning about occupational hazards in commercial trucking is crucial for several reasons, as it directly impacts the safety, health, and well-being of truck drivers, other road users, and the overall efficiency of the trucking industry.

Learning about occupational hazards is a fundamental aspect of creating a safe workplace for truck drivers. It contributes to a proactive safety culture and empowers drivers and trucking companies to implement measures that mitigate risks and prevent accidents in their work environment.

What is an Occupational Hazard?

Occupational hazards in the United States can vary widely depending on the industry and specific job tasks. Different occupations pose different risks to workers. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines occupational hazards as workplace conditions or practices that have the potential to cause harm to workers. According to OSHA, an occupational hazard can encompass a wide range of conditions, activities, and substances that pose risks to workers’ health and safety.

Different Types of Occupational Hazards

OSHA categorizes many hazards and occupational stress into several types, including:

Physical Hazards

Physical safety hazards in commercial trucking refer to conditions, activities, or factors that can pose a risk of harm to the health and safety of truck drivers and others involved in the transportation industry. Physical hazards can vary widely and may impact drivers both inside and outside the truck.

Here are some examples of physical safety hazards in commercial trucking:

  • Driving Hazards: Long hours of driving can lead to driver fatigue, a significant physical hazard that impairs alertness, reaction times, and decision-making abilities.
  • Physical Strain from Loading and Unloading: Handling and transporting cargo can involve physical strain, leading to injuries such as strains, sprains, and crush injuries during loading and unloading.
  • Manual Material Handling: Activities such as manually handling heavy items during cargo loading and unloading increase the risk of musculoskeletal injuries.
  • Falls from Height: Climbing onto or down from the truck’s trailer, especially in inclement weather, can pose a risk of falls, leading to injuries.
  • Traffic Hazards: Exposure to traffic hazards, including the risk of collisions with other vehicles, is an inherent physical hazard in commercial trucking.
  • Physical Strain from Driving Maneuvers: Repetitive and prolonged driving, as well as the physical demands of handling a large commercial vehicle, can contribute to physical strain and fatigue.

Truckers must be aware of these physical hazards and take measures to address and mitigate the associated risks. This may include implementing ergonomic improvements and ensuring regular vehicle maintenance.

Ergonomic risk factors

In commercial trucking, ergonomic risk factors refer to conditions or physical safety hazards that can contribute to musculoskeletal disorders, discomfort, and physical strain among truck drivers. The nature of the job, which involves long hours of driving and various tasks associated with cargo handling, can give rise to ergonomic challenges:

  • Poor Seat Design: Inadequate or poorly designed truck seats can lead to discomfort and contribute to back pain and other musculoskeletal issues. Lack of proper lumbar support and adjustability may exacerbate these problems.
  • Extended Sitting: Long periods of sitting without breaks or opportunities to stretch can lead to stiffness, reduced circulation, and discomfort. Prolonged sitting is associated with various health issues.
  • Limited Cab Space: Confined spaces within truck cabins can restrict movement and contribute to discomfort. Insufficient space for adjusting seating positions or performing simple stretches can lead to stiffness.
  • Awkward Postures: Maintaining awkward or uncomfortable postures while driving or during cargo handling tasks can lead to musculoskeletal strain. This includes positions that strain the neck, back, shoulders, and other body parts.
  • Limited Opportunities for Physical Activity: Lack of opportunities for physical activity or exercise during rest breaks or downtime can contribute to stiffness and reduced overall well-being.
  • Repetitive Movements: Repetitive tasks, such as reaching for controls, handling cargo, or performing paperwork, can contribute to musculoskeletal disorders and workplace injuries over time. Repeated movements without adequate breaks can strain muscles and joints.
  • Manual Material Handling: Cargo loading and unloading involve manual material handling, which can lead to ergonomic risks if not done with proper techniques and equipment. Heavy lifting without assistance or using improper lifting techniques can lead to strains and injuries.
  • Vibration and Whole-Body Vibration (WBV): Prolonged exposure to significant vibration, especially in older trucks, can contribute to discomfort and health issues. Whole-body vibration from driving on uneven surfaces can affect the spine and other body parts.
  • Poor Lighting Conditions: In addition to significant vibration, inadequate lighting within the truck’s cabin can contribute to eyestrain and discomfort, especially during nighttime driving or when completing paperwork.
  • Noise Exposure: Prolonged exposure to excessive noise from the engine, road, or traffic can contribute to stress and potential hearing loss, impacting overall driver well-being.
  • Radiation: Radiation involves the emission of energy in the form of particles or electromagnetic waves, and it can pose risks to health and safety. In certain industries, workers may be exposed to ionizing radiation (such as that of x-rays) among other potential hazards.

Identifying and addressing these physical safety hazards is crucial for promoting the health and well-being of truck drivers.

Contamination hazard labels on a tanker truck for the transport

Chemical hazards

Truck drivers who transport chemicals or potentially harmful substances may encounter various health hazards that pose risks to their safety. Chemical hazards refer to the risks associated with the transportation, handling, and potential exposure to hazardous chemicals, dangerous goods, or toxic dusts during transportation. Work-related injuries can result from leaks, spills, chemical exposure, or improper handling of hazardous substances:

  • Transportation of Hazardous Materials: Chemical hazards can arise from transporting hazardous materials, as classified by regulatory authorities. These materials include substances such as flammable liquids, corrosive materials, toxic substances, and explosives.
  • Chemical Spills or Leaks: Accidental spills or leaks of chemicals during transportation can expose drivers to hazardous substances. This can occur due to vehicular accidents, equipment failure, or inadequate packaging.
  • Inhalation Risks: Some hazardous materials may release toxic fumes or gases that can pose inhalation risks to drivers if there is a leak or spill. Exposure to these substances can lead to respiratory issues and other health problems.
  • Skin Exposure: Contact with chemical hazards through skin exposure can result in chemical burns, irritation, or absorption of harmful substances. Proper personal protective equipment (PPE) is crucial to minimize the risk of skin contact.
  • Exposure to Corrosive Substances: Corrosive materials, such as acids or bases, can cause damage to skin, eyes, and respiratory tissues upon contact. Exposure to these substances requires careful handling and protection.
  • Flammable Materials: Transportation of flammable liquids or gases poses the risk of fires or explosions in the event of a collision or accident. Ignition sources, such as sparks, can result in serious hazards.
  • Toxic Chemicals: Exposure to toxic chemicals can have severe health effects. Inhalation, ingestion, or skin contact with toxic substances may lead to poisoning, organ damage, or other adverse health outcomes.
  • Inadequate Ventilation: Limited ventilation within the truck’s cargo area can increase the risk of exposure to hazardous fumes, particularly if the transported chemicals emit vapors.
  • Chemical Incompatibility: Mixing incompatible chemicals during transportation can result in chemical reactions, leading to hazardous conditions such as fires, releases of toxic gases, or explosions.

Implement preventive measures and emergency procedures to minimize the risk of spills or leaks. Use proper labeling and packaging for hazardous materials. Provide drivers with suitable personal protective equipment (PPE) for handling hazardous materials and minimizing exposure to toxic dusts.

Biological hazards

Biological hazards refer to the potential risks and dangers related to exposure to living organisms or their byproducts. Biological hazards and any resulting illnesses can harm the health and safety of truck drivers. While commercial trucking may not be as directly associated with biological hazards as some other occupations, there are specific scenarios where truck drivers may encounter such risks.

  • Livestock and Animal Transport: Truck drivers involved in transporting livestock, animals, or animal materials may be exposed to biological hazards such as animal waste, saliva, and other bodily fluids. This exposure can carry the risk of infections and diseases.
  • Pest Infestations: The presence of pests, such as rodents or insects, in the cargo area or truck cabin, can introduce biological hazards. Insect bites or exposure to rodent droppings can carry health risks.
  • Zoonotic Diseases: Zoonotic diseases are infections that can be transmitted between animals and humans. Drivers handling animals or animal products may be at risk of exposure to zoonotic pathogens.
  • Handling Perishable Goods: Drivers responsible for transporting perishable goods may encounter biological hazards related to the decomposition of organic materials. This can result in the growth of bacteria and other microorganisms.
  • Exposure to Allergens: Some drivers may be exposed to biological hazards in the form of toxic or poisonous plants and allergens, such as pollen or mold spores, which can be present in and around the truck.
  • Contact with Contaminated Surfaces: Touching surfaces that are contaminated with biological agents, such as bacteria or viruses, can pose a risk of infectious diseases. This may include handling cargo or touching surfaces in public areas.
  • Exposure to Bloodborne Pathogens: In cases where drivers are involved in transporting medical supplies or biohazardous materials, there may be a risk of exposure to bloodborne pathogens.

Truckers need to be aware of potential biological hazards and take proper measures, such as practicing hygiene practices for disease control, wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) when necessary, and ensuring that trucks are cleaned and sanitized regularly.

A trucker performing a safety check before hitting the road, highlighting the commitment to safe transport.

Other Occupational Hazards in Commercial Trucking

Commercial trucking involves various occupational hazards that can impact the health and safety of truck drivers. Health hazards can arise from the nature of the job, the working environment, and the conditions in which truck drivers operate. Some common occupational hazards in commercial trucking in the United States include:

  • Vehicle Maintenance and Inspections: Lack of proper vehicle maintenance and pre-trip inspections can lead to mechanical failures, increasing the risk of accidents. Drivers should be trained to perform routine inspections and report any issues promptly.
  • Exposure to Weather Conditions: Truck drivers are exposed to various weather conditions, including extreme heat, cold, rain, and snow. Exposure to harsh weather, such as oppressive heat or low temperatures, can impact drivers’ health and contribute to cold stress and other health hazards.
  • Risk of Accidents and Injuries: The nature of the job involves driving large and heavy vehicles, which can result in accidents and injuries. Traffic accidents, especially those involving other motorists, pose a significant occupational hazard.

To address these occupational hazards, truckers should prioritize safety and adhere to regulations. Regular health checks and access to mental health support can also contribute to the overall well-being of truck drivers.

How Do Workplace Hazards Affect Commercial Truck Drivers?

Commercial truck drivers face a unique set of occupational hazards due to the nature of their jobs. Here are some ways in which occupational hazards can affect commercial truck drivers:

  • Driver Fatigue: Long hours on the road and irregular schedules can lead to driver fatigue. Fatigued driving is an occupational hazard that impairs reaction times, decision-making, and overall cognitive function, increasing the risk of accidents. Compliance with Hours of Service (HOS) regulations is crucial to prevent driver fatigue.
  • Psychosocial Stress: The isolation of long-haul trucking, time away from family and friends, and the pressure to meet tight schedules can contribute to psychosocial stress, potentially affecting mental health.
  • Sleep Disorders: Irregular sleep patterns, long hours, and the sedentary nature of the job can contribute to sleep disorders among truck drivers, including sleep apnea.

How to Improve Occupational Safety in Commercial Trucking

To create healthful working conditions and mitigate the impact of occupational hazards on commercial truck drivers, employers must implement safety measures, and create supportive work environments. Enforcing standards, responding appropriately to workplace injury, and providing training and tools for health and wellness can help create better workplaces for all professionals in commercial trucking.

Additionally, drivers should prioritize their well-being, adopt healthy lifestyle practices, keep medical records updated, and be aware of the potential risks associated with their profession. Regular health check-ups, proper rest, and adherence to safety regulations can contribute to the overall safety and health of commercial truck drivers.

Identifying the Right Insurance Provider for Your Needs

Get a truck insurance quote from CTI today. Our TRS-certified truck insurance agents will help you find policies that match your work activities and help you get adequate protection against specific perils. With a network of over 30 carriers, we help you secure the best deals in commercial trucking insurance.