Transport by road includes the movement of people, livestock and freight of all kinds. Freight and livestock generally move in some form of truck, although buses often carry packages and passenger baggage and may transport fowl and small animals. People generally move by bus on the road, although in many areas trucks of various kinds serve this function.
Truck (lorry) drivers may operate several different types of vehicles, including, for example, semi-trailers, tanker trucks, dump trucks, double and triple trailer combinations, mobile cranes, delivery trucks and panel or pickup vehicles. Legal gross vehicle weights (which vary by jurisdiction) range from 2,000 kg to over 80,000 kg. Truck cargo may include any imaginable item—for example, small and large packages, machinery, rock and sand, steel, lumber, flammable liquids, compressed gases, explosives, radioactive materials, corrosive or reactive chemicals, cryogenic liquids, food products, frozen foods, bulk grain, sheep and cattle.
In addition to driving the vehicle, truck drivers are responsible for inspecting the vehicle prior to use, checking shipping papers, verifying that proper placards and markings are in place and maintaining a log book. Drivers may also be responsible for servicing and repairing the vehicle, loading and unloading cargo (either by hand or using a fork truck, crane or other equipment) and collecting money received for goods delivered. In the event of an accident, the driver is responsible for securing the cargo and summoning assistance. If the incident involves hazardous materials, the driver may attempt, even without proper training or necessary equipment, to control spills, stop leaks or put out a fire.
Bus drivers may carry a few people in a small van or operate medium and large buses carrying 100 or more passengers. They are responsible for boarding and discharging passengers safely, providing information and possibly collecting fares and maintaining order. Bus drivers may also be responsible for servicing and repairing the bus and loading and unloading cargo and baggage.
Motor vehicle accidents are one of the most serious hazards facing both truck and bus drivers. This hazard is aggravated if the vehicle is not properly maintained, especially if the tyres are worn or the brake system is faulty. Driver fatigue caused by a long or irregular schedules, or by other stress, increases the likelihood of accidents. Excessive speed and hauling excessive weight add to the risk, as do heavy traffic and adverse weather conditions which impair traction or visibility. An accident involving hazardous materials may cause additional injury (toxic exposure, burns and so on) to the driver or passengers and may affect a wide area surrounding the accident.
Drivers face a variety of ergonomic hazards. The most obvious are back and other injuries caused by lifting excessive weight or using improper lifting technique. The use of back belts is quite common, although their efficacy has been questioned, and their use may create a false sense of security. The necessity of loading and unloading cargo at locations where fork-lift trucks, cranes or even dollies are not available and the great variety of package weights and configurations add to the risk of lifting injuries.
Driver’s seats are often poorly designed and cannot be adjusted to provide proper support and long-term comfort, resulting in back problems or other musculoskeletal damage. Drivers may experience damage to the shoulder caused by vibration as the arm may rest for long periods in a somewhat raised position on the window opening. Whole-body vibration can cause damage to the kidneys and back. Ergonomic injury may also result from repetitive use of poorly placed vehicle controls or fare box keypads.
Drivers are at risk of industrial hearing loss caused by long-term exposure to loud engine noises. Poor maintenance, faulty mufflers and inadequate cab insulation aggravate this hazard. Hearing loss may be more pronounced in the ear adjacent to the driver’s window.
Drivers, especially long-haul truck drivers, often work excessive hours without adequate rest. The International Labour Organization (ILO) Hours of Work and Rest Periods (Road Transport) Convention, 1979 (No. 153), requires a break after 4 hours of driving, limits total driving time to 9 hours per day and 48 hours per week and requires at least 10 hours of rest in each 24-hour period. Most nations also have laws which govern driving times and rest periods and require drivers to maintain logbooks indicating hours worked and rest periods taken. However, management expectations and economic necessity, as well as certain terms of remuneration, such as pay per load or the lack of pay for an empty return trip, put strong pressure on the driver to operate for excessive hours and to make bogus log entries. Long hours cause psychological stress, aggravate ergonomic problems, contribute to accidents (including accidents caused by falling asleep at the wheel) and may cause the driver to use artificial, addictive stimulants.
In addition to ergonomic conditions, long work hours, noise and economic anxiety, drivers experience psychological and physiological stress and fatigue caused by adverse traffic conditions, poor road surfaces, bad weather, night driving, the fear of assault and robbery, concern about faulty equipment and continuous intense concentration.
Truck drivers are potentially exposed to any chemical, radioactive or biological hazard associated with their load. Leaking containers, faulty valves on tanks and emissions during loading or unloading may cause worker exposures to toxic chemicals. Improper packaging, inadequate shielding or improper placement of radioactive cargo may allow radiation exposure. Workers transporting livestock may be infected with animal-borne infections such as brucellosis. Bus drivers are exposed to infectious diseases of their passengers. Drivers are also exposed to fuel vapours and engine exhaust, especially if there are fuel-line or exhaust system leaks or if the driver makes repairs or handles freight while the engine is running.
In the event of an accident involving hazardous materials, the driver may experience acute chemical or radiation exposures or may be injured by a fire, explosion or chemical reaction. Drivers generally lack the training or equipment to deal with hazardous materials incidents. Their responsibility should be limited to protecting themselves and summoning emergency responders. The driver faces additional risks in attempting emergency response actions for which he or she is not properly trained and adequately equipped.
The driver may be injured in the course of making mechanical repairs to the vehicle. A driver could be struck by another vehicle while working on a truck or bus alongside the road. Wheels with split rims pose a special injury hazard. Improvised or inadequate jacks may cause a crushing injury.
Truck drivers face the risk of assault and robbery, especially if the vehicle carries a valuable cargo or if the driver is responsible for collecting money for goods delivered. Bus drivers are at risk of fare box robberies and abuse or assault by impatient or inebriated passengers.
Many aspects of a driver’s life may contribute to poor health. Because they work long hours and need to eat on the road, drivers often suffer from poor nutrition. Stress and peer pressure may lead to drug and alcohol use. Using the services of prostitutes increases the risk of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. The drivers appear to be one of the main vectors for carrying AIDS in some countries.
The risks described above are all preventable, or at least controllable. As with most safety and health issues, what is needed is a combination of adequate remuneration, worker training, a strong union contract and strict adherence to applicable standards on the part of management. If drivers receive adequate pay for their work, based on proper work schedules, there is less incentive to speed, work excessive hours, drive unsafe vehicles, carry overweight loads, take drugs or make bogus log entries. Management must require drivers to comply with all safety laws, including keeping an honest logbook.
If management invests in well-made vehicles and assures their regular inspection, maintenance and servicing, breakdowns and accidents can be greatly reduced. Ergonomic injury can be reduced if management is willing to pay for the well-designed cabs, fully adjustable driver’s seats and good vehicle control arrangements that are now available. Proper maintenance, especially of exhaust systems, will reduce noise exposure.
Toxic exposures can be reduced if management assures compliance with packaging, labelling, loading and placarding standards for hazardous materials. Measures which reduce vehicular accidents also reduce the risk of a hazardous materials incident.
Drivers must be given time to thoroughly inspect the vehicle prior to use and must not face any penalty or disincentive for refusing to operate a vehicle that is not functioning properly. Drivers must also receive adequate driver training, vehicle inspection training, hazard recognition training and first-responder training.
If drivers are responsible for loading and unloading, they must receive training in proper lifting technique and be provided with hand-trucks, fork-lifts, cranes or other equipment necessary to handle goods without excessive strain. If drivers are expected to make repairs to vehicles, they must be provided with the correct tools and proper training. Adequate security measures must be taken to protect drivers who transport valuables or handle passenger fares or money received for goods delivered. Bus drivers should have proper supplies for dealing with body fluids from sick or injured passengers.
Drivers must receive medical services both to assure their fitness for work and to maintain their health. Medical surveillance must be provided for drivers who handle hazardous materials or are involved in an incident with exposure to blood-borne pathogens or hazardous materials . Both management and drivers must comply with standards governing the evaluation of medical fitness.