GREEN BAY, Wis. — Truck drivers — the people who deliver our food, cars and clothing — have one of the most dangerous jobs in America — accounting for nearly 15 percent of U.S. work-related deaths. And that's only counting the accidents.
They are also more at risk than average Americans for a number of health problems. Obesity is rampant. Many don't bother to wear seat belts because their stomachs get in the way. About one in four have sleep apnea. Half of them smoke.
The latest research in an upcoming report asserts those points and may help influence government regulations for truck drivers' health, which are under review. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is considering tightening its rules for conditions including diabetes and high blood pressure. And many companies are stepping up their own efforts at improving health.
"It takes a while to undo years and years and years of unhealthy behavior," said Christie Cullinan of the American Trucking Associations, which represents about 2,000 companies and suppliers. "But I think companies are having to look at this because of the skyrocketing health care costs and related workers-compensation costs."
Drivers are tested every two years to maintain their licenses, which are issued by states. Waivers can be granted, but generally commercial drivers can't be licensed if they have severe high blood pressure or severe heart conditions. Weight and smoking aren't regulated.
Gerald P. Krueger, a psychologist who compiled the latest research from the Transportation Research Board, said trucking companies need to do more to foster better health among their employees.
It's not clear how many companies are making efforts. The trucking associations group says it is planning a survey. The group estimates there are 1.3 million long-haul drivers nationwide.
An Associated Press spot check of companies revealed these initiatives:
● Celadon Group Inc. has stationed nurses at its main facility in Indianapolis and encourages its 3,200 drivers in the U.S. and Canada to get blood pressure and cholesterol checks. Doctors are on call if needed, and Celadon pays all expenses. The company says it's helped trim its $10 million annual health care bill.
● Melton Truck Lines Inc. replaced sodas in the Tulsa, Okla., headquarters vending machines with green tea, water and diet drinks. The company also offered a 12-week weight-loss series.
● Con-way Freight of Ann Arbor, Mich., saw annual workers-compensation claims plunge 80 percent and saw lost workdays drop 75 percent in Los Angeles after its trial of a wellness program two years ago. Now leaders of such programs are being hired at other hub offices.
● Schneider National Inc. of Green Bay, Wis., screened 10,000 of its 15,000 drivers for apnea, a disorder that interferes with breathing during sleep and can leave the sufferer groggy and exhausted. The company provided the 10 percent who had the disorder with special air masks to help them sleep.
Some drivers are responding to health campaigns, working out at loading stations, cooking for themselves and even walking laps around their rigs. (Thirty-two times around an 18-wheeler is a mile.)
The Bureau of Labor Statistics says the trucking industry has the most fatalities of all occupations, accounting for nearly 15 percent of all worker deaths in the most recent data available, from 2005. Of those trucker deaths, 80 percent involved traffic accidents, the bureau said.