Workplace Hazards of Truck Drivers

By Smith, Sean M. | Monthly Labor Review, April 2015 | Go to article overview

Workplace Hazards of Truck Drivers


Smith, Sean M., Monthly Labor Review


During 2012, 756 truck drivers lost their lives in work-related incidents, while over 65,000 private sector truck drivers suffered injuries and illnesses that resulted in time away from work according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) and Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses (SOII). (1) Truck drivers, along with driver/sales workers, had a workplace fatal injury rate of 24.3 in 2012, more than 7 times higher than the overall workplace average. Their rate of nonfatal injuries and illnesses involving days away from work was 294.7 cases per 10,000 full-time workers, almost 3 times the rate for all private industry occupations.

The BLS Occupational Safety and Health Statistics program classifies truck drivers into two occupational groups. Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers drive the biggest vehicles on the road, defined as having a capacity of at least 26,000 pounds gross vehicle weight. Light truck or delivery service drivers drive smaller trucks, those under 26,000 pounds gross vehicle weight. In addition to their driving duties, truck drivers may be required to unload the vehicles. In 2012, 10,659,380 large trucks (defined as having a gross vehicle weight greater than 10,000 pounds) were on the roads, traveling a total of more than 268 billion miles. (2)

The scope of workers covered by CFOI and SOII differs. CFOI is an annual census that counts all fatal injuries in the United States. It includes all workers in the United States: the self-employed, federal government workers, resident military, and volunteers. Of the fatally injured truck drivers in 2012, 13 percent were self-employed. SOII is an annual survey that collects data on occupational injuries and illnesses from a sample of private industry establishments, as well as state and local governments. SOII excludes the self-employed, federal government and U.S. Postal Service workers, and workers on farms with fewer than 11 employees. (3)

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, an agency within the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), regulates the hours of service that truckers are allowed to drive. Regulations of hours worked intend to reduce incidents resulting from tired or drowsy drivers. (4) The regulations state that drivers may

* drive a maximum of 11 hours after 10 consecutive hours off duty;

* not drive beyond the 14th consecutive hour after coming on duty, following 10 consecutive hours off duty (off-duty time does not extend the 14-hour period);

* drive only if 8 hours or less have passed since the end of the driver's last off-duty or sleeper-berth period of at least 30 minutes;

* not drive after 60/70 hours on duty in 7/8 consecutive days; and

* may restart a 7/8 consecutive day period after taking 34 or more consecutive hours off duty.

Estimates vary on the number of accidents caused by driver fatigue. Data from BLS do not measure the role of driver fatigue in truck driver injuries. However, according to a DOT 2006 study, sleep was a factor in 4 percent of all truck drivers involved in a crash and in 13 percent of single-vehicle crashes. In 2012, according to DOT, 3,921 people were killed in crashes. (5)

In 2012, according to DOT, 3,921 people were killed in crashes involving large trucks (gross vehicle weight greater than 10,000 pounds). (6) This total includes the drivers of the trucks and any other fatalities resulting from crashes involving large trucks. Most of these fatalities are not counted in the CFOI, because they are not considered work related. For example, if a large truck strikes a passenger car, killing the driver of the car en route to the grocery store, the driver of the car is not considered in work status and thus is not counted in the CFOI. Such cases, however, are important to consider when CFOI assesses the impact of trucking safety measures. The CFOI would count the drivers of the trucks and anyone else involved in these crashes who was in work status at the time of the incident. …

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