How many heavy-duty truck and bus drivers – Code C1 to Code EC – are there in South Africa? The latest stats, according to eNaTIS, indicate there are 4,9 million licensed heavy-duty drivers. The heavy-duty vehicle population is only 418 000 and that’s why there is an over-supply of licensed truck drivers.
A conservative estimate is that there are around 500 000 active heavy-duty drivers in South Africa. Extra-heavy-duty drivers are included in that number. A safe assumption is that there are around 100 000 Code EC (old Code 14) extra-heavy-duty drivers moving freight over long distances every day in South Africa.
But not all truck drivers are subjected to the same health-level stresses and occupational challenges – it is the 100 000 extra-heavy, long-distance drivers that are the most challenged when it comes to heart-health issues.
Time Magazine Feb 22-29, 2016 Longevity Issue
• Scientists have shown that sedentary behaviour, like sitting all day, is a risk factor for earlier death.
• Diet is by far the most powerful intervention to delay aging and age-related diseases.
Internationally, truck Driving is ranked as being one of the most dangerous occupations in the world. The trucking industry is ranked as having the greatest number of injuries and illnesses among commercial drivers.
And even more so in South Africa, truck driving can be very stressful for a number of reasons.
– Drivers must master diverse skills in order to be able to manage and control a heavily loaded tractor/trailer.
– In addition to this, the driver must deal with the various hazards of the road. This includes weather, accidents, road construction, traffic congestion and other situations, such as road rage and drivers who do not respect a truck’s stopping distance to fill up the gap a truck driver leaves in following traffic to stop safely.
– Furthermore, there are ever-increasing pressures to adhere to demanding pick-up and delivery schedules. Consequently, drivers have increased stress levels due to work-related pressures.
– And then there is a ‘fear factor’ – there are an ever-increasing number of local and foreign drivers ‘waiting at the gate’ for driving work. Any default could be construed as an opportunity to lose the job to someone who is prepared to drive for less. Professional long-distance SA truckers report only hiring three out of 100 applicants as suitably qualified drivers. We all need a little stress to perform well, but fear and stress combine to result in distress, one of many root causes of high blood pressure.
The reaction to stress, with monotonous and unmonitored long hours on the road, is smoking as an antidote. It is a vicious cycle. Smoking is one thing the medical profession all agree on – compared to non-smokers, smokers are two to three times more likely to die from a heart attack and twice as likely to die from a stroke. The lifestyle of long-distance drivers may differ greatly to local distribution work, but the negative effects of smoking apply to all drivers.
Obesity is also a major problem in the trucking industry, caused in part by the sedentary lifestyle of many truckers – it is a major factor in coronary artery disease known to increase the risk of heart disease and strokes. Obesity is also caused by the consumption of poor-quality foods many drivers
consume on a regular basis. This includes foods which contain excessive amounts of saturated fat, trans-fat and sugar. Also, people under stress may overeat more than they otherwise would.
An important factor in the perpetuating cycle of Diabetes and Hypertension is that once diagnosed with the condition, because the drivers are on the road so often they fail to follow up at medical appointment to monitor the condition and to collect their medication.
Here is a 10-point checklist of an SA long-haul driver’s lifestyle that accelerates both diabetes and heart disease:
Truck Driving health challenges
Lack of exercise
Poor diet such as pap & vleis
Succumbing to snack & sweet-tooth temptations
Bad eating habits – one or two large meals/day
Massive variety of sweet soft drinks
Past research has found that 90% of heart disease cases are completely preventable by modifying diet and lifestyle factors – engaging in five healthy lifestyle habits could prevent nearly 80% of first-time heart attacks in men. The five healthy habits include:
– Eating healthy;
– Staying physically active;
– Maintaining a healthy waist circumference;
– Not smoking; and
– Limiting alcohol intake.
The first two items on this list are a major challenge for truckers due to the operational environment. Extreme fatigue and tiredness may be the forerunner of a heart attack. But drivers must be trained in recognising the signs of a heart attack, which can include the following:
– Chest pain or discomfort – pain or pressure in the chest centre that spreads up into throat or jaw could be a sign of a heart attack;
– Shortness of breath, especially when walking up an incline or stairs;
– Pain or discomfort in the arms or shoulder – a classic heart attack symptom is pain that radiates down the left side of the body;
– Swollen legs, feet and ankles – when the heart can’t pump fast enough, blood backs up in the veins and causes bloating;
– Breaking out in a cold sweat for no obvious reason could signal a heart attack.
It’s tough to be cautious about your health and diet on the road. With limited time, space, and options, it’s no wonder many truckers will resort to fast food and energy drinks to sustain sustenance on the road. Unfortunately, unhealthy eating on the road can have drastic consequences.
Eating healthy can improve your overall health in many ways. Eating less process foods and more vegetables and fruits can help you lose weight, boost your immune system, and get a better night of sleep. A diet full of too much carbohydrates and sugar can lead to many health conditions such as obesity and diabetes.
Too much sugar can also lead to sleepiness, which is obviously not good for you if you still have a 5 hour drive to your next off-load. When we feel tired and need a pick-me- up, we have a tendency to reach for a can of cool drink or sweats. The sugar gives us a quick burst of energy, but then it fizzles as quickly as it came, leaving us more tired than before. Several studies have indicated that protein-rich foods can increase cognitive performance and leave us feeling full longer. Below are just a few healthy snacks you can find at many petrol stations and almost all supermarkets:
– Fresh or Dried Fruit – This is perfect for all you sweet-tooth’s out there. Instead of picking up a sweet/candy bar filled with trans fats or sugars. Fruit contains less sugar and fat while still satisfying that sweetness you’ve been craving. Fruit also contains Vitamin C and Fiber, which will keep your body functioning all throughout your journey. Dried fruit also lasts quite a while and will take up less room in your rig. Although it loses some nutrients through the drying process, it’s still a great alternative to candy.
– Sunflower Seeds – These little guys pack quite a nutritious punch. Containing a smorgasbord of vitamins and nutrients like Vitamin B, Vitamin E, and Magnesium, sunflower seeds can be eaten alone for a quick boost of energy or added to other things like salads, chicken, or trail mix.
– Hard Boiled Eggs – These will most likely need to be prepared at home, but hard-boiled eggs are high in protein, but low in calories. Although they contain a lot of cholesterol, if eaten in moderation, these guys can lower your risk of heart attack and kick-start your metabolism.
– Peanut Butter – For a while peanut butter got a bad rap. Many thought that its fat content outweighed its benefits. However, research has shown that while it does contain fats, many of these are “good fats.”
– Biltong – Be careful when choosing this snack. Many brands pack their product full of sodium and preservatives. Look for brands labeled “low sodium” or “natural ingredients. If eaten in moderation, beef jerky is a great source of protein for long haulers.
– Smoothies – Either prep these before your trip or grab some premade smoothie options at your local supermarket. Be wary of the amount of sugar and preservatives in premade smoothies. If you have time, it’s best to whip some up yourself, adding fruits, vegetables, and even protein powder for an extra boost.
– Low Calorie Gum – This might seem like an odd choice, but gum actually has a variety of health benefits. Chewing gum suppresses hunger and will curb your urge to snack on something unhealthy. It also provides a quick burst of energy that will keep you awake during those long hauls. Many also switch to chewing gum when trying to quit smoking.
In a modern context, driver training is much more than teaching drivers about road craft and saving fuel. It must include lifestyle training. And simply measuring both blood pressure and blood sugar levels is a sure-fire way of spotting developing or serious health problems that need control.
Today’s new trucks are a far cry from last-century trucks in the eighties where many did not offer power steering and manual shift gearboxes required double-declutching due to an absence of synchromesh.
Modern trucks such as Isuzu offer automated shift transmissions (AMT) where gearshift stress is removed. Isuzu braking systems include ABS for ease of braking control, and standard power steering makes any Isuzu truck an ‘easy-drive’ unit.
“Isuzu trucks include many technical features that improve every aspect of driver safety and comfort to reduce stress. But the environment on the roads is becoming harsher and driving more
demanding. It pays to monitor driver health properly and not through ‘cheap’ medical certificates. After all, a truck driver is the nut behind the wheel that holds the truck together and SA’s 100 000 long-distance drivers need special attention,” concludes Craig Uren, chief operating officer, Isuzu Truck South Africa.