Safety on 18 Wheels

April 4, 2013

They’re the most visible invisible workers in America. That’s how University of Alabama at Birmingham Assistant Professor of Nursing Karen Heaton, PhD, CEN, FNP-BC, describes the 1.5 million long-haul truckers crisscrossing America’s highways.

“We see the vehicle, but we never see the person behind the wheel,” said Heaton, who has a two-year grant for $380,900 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)/National Institutes of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to study the sleep health of long-haul truckers. “They’re salt-of-the-earth people who work hard to make a living under difficult circumstances, and they have significant risk for work-related injuries.”

The study involves development of a web-based health intervention that translates a lecture-based sleep, alertness, and fatigue management program into a distance-accessible format.

It’s success could have an impact on public health and safety, as well as the health and safety of the truckers.

“There’s an existing program which was created in the nineties, and it’s still very good,” Heaton explained. “But it’s presented live in classrooms, which are difficult for truckers to access. How-ever, many drivers now travel with laptops so they can communicate with employers and family members or play games and watch movies during down time. Most large truck stop chains offer WiFi. So I thought that might be a good venue for delivering health information.”

Heaton is working with 80 truckers to determine whether they like the distance-based program and find it helpful, and whether the program components motivate them to make healthy changes in their sleep practices.

“The safest amount of sleep for driving is seven to eight hours a night and truckers tend not to get that for all sorts of reasons,” Heaton explained. “Usually, when a crash involves a commercial vehicle and a passenger vehicle, the driver of the passenger vehicle is at fault. Still, truckers have the highest rates of work-related motor vehicle crashes and the highest number of days missed because of injury.”

Heaton said that drivers sometimes sleep even more erratically at home, where they’re trying to make up for lost time with their families. She hopes to continue her work and explore that issue, the ultimate goal being to create much-needed health and safety interventions for these drivers—and for the families who wait for them back home.

Source: University of Alabama at Birmingham

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