Wear and Tear – Transportation Jobs are Hard on the Body

Wear and Tear – Transportation Jobs are Hard on the Body

Long-haul jobs have produced an array of long-term health concerns that are unique to workers in the transportation sectors. Given the current need to retain as many drivers, pilots, and operators as possible, many employers are working to increase awareness of these concerns to promote wellness among their employees. Let’s take a look at some of the effects these high-speed careers can have on worker health and what companies are doing to address them.



It’s a bit ironic, but some of our most mobile careers are also some of the most sedentary. Pilots, drivers, train engineers, and traffic controllers are often seated for the bulk of their work hours, which is much more of a health hazard than most people realize. Drivers, for example, have a life expectancy that is about 16 years shorter than the national average, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

Walking hand-in-hand with inactivity is its awful partner obesity, spurred on by an abundance of fast food options. In fact, 55% of drivers are obese compared to 33% of U.S. men, according to insurance firm HNI.

The reasons behind this are fairly evident. Having to plan your exercise and fresh food options well in advance can be difficult when you have to be in another state by lunchtime. Often, your accommodations may not even offer healthy options.

As such, companies are turning to wellness programs specifically designed for long-distance workers. They share similarities across modes of transportation, in that they usually involve increasing physical activity with limited space and resources. Drivers can walk laps around their trucks, for example, or pilots can get moving within a terminal or around their aircraft. These kinds of programs also place a strong emphasis on stretching exercises because it can be done inside a plane or the cab of a truck.



Strains, sprains, and pulled muscles are all extremely common in the trucking industry. In fact, drivers are nearly twice as likely to have a musculoskeletal injury on the job than general workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Long-haul truckers are nearly four times as likely.

Long periods of sitting followed by bursts of heavy activity make these injuries frequent and the aging workforce of drivers is adding to the problem. Today, the average commercial driver is 55 years old, according to the BLS. Most of the reported injuries happened to the arms and back and were typically caused by falls or contact with objects or equipment.

To help reduce injuries and their subsequent insurance claims, companies have been using a blend of targeted safety training, behavior monitoring via technology, and even pre-employment fitness testing in some cases. Companies have also been using online refresher courses for experienced drivers to ensure best practices are being followed.



Airline pilots and other flight crew members face a higher incidence rate of various cancers, according to research published last year from Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Higher skin cancer rates have been well-documented for years among commercial and military pilots, but cabin crew members are also at risk. The study found incur higher rates for breast, cervix, thyroid, uterine, and various gastrointestinal cancers among flight crews than those found among the general population.

For skin cancers specifically, a lot of the blame is placed upon higher exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. Lately, many airlines have been increasing protection for pilots and crew members by adding window shades or UV filters to airplane windows. Pilots themselves have reportedly used improvised shades from time to time.

As for all the other types of cancers, the study pointed out that air crews receive the highest yearly dose of ionizing radiation on the job of all U.S. workers. Cosmic ionizing radiation, a carcinogen, is found at elevated levels at higher altitudes.

Also, crews may be more exposed to chemicals such as flame retardants or leaks from engine components, which could lead to increased risk of cancer. Researchers recommended conducting further longitudinal studies to evaluate associations between exposures and cancers.


Keep Educating

Although several of the health concerns mentioned in this article are complex issues, many of the strategies that companies are deploying begin similarly with employee education. As your company begins its own wellness initiatives, place an emphasis on educating employees about the problem. A better understanding of the issue will help you build stronger motivation to work toward a solution.

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Category Features, Health