Over-the-road drivers face a special set of challenges in the quest to get or stay healthy. Many don’t feel that they have the time to “be healthy.” Faced with time constraints and an abundance of quick but unhealthy foods in truck stops, many believe “healthy truck driver” is an oxymoron. But on-the-road health and wellness is possible, and your company will benefit from encouraging good habits and helping drivers to get and stay healthy.

In this article we will discuss the ins and outs of establishing an effective driver wellness program, including:

  • Why driver health is your concern
  • How you can encourage driver wellness on the road
  • What other companies are doing today
  • Tips for implementing a health and wellness program
  • Overcoming potential objections and obstacles
  • Benefits of creating a wellness program

The average lifespan of a truck driver is 16 years shorter than the national average of 77 years. Long hours, bad habits (unhealthy food, smoking) and a general sedentary lifestyle isn’t good for anyone. Factor in the demands of the job, and drivers will be more likely to experience illnesses and injury, potentially leading to crashes or early retirement. Implementing a health and wellness program for your drivers may cost money at the outset, but the savings in terms of insurance and workers’ compensation costs, turnover, recruitment, and training, and the potential for accidents and other driver-related problems offer farther-reaching benefits.

Obesity and smoking are two of the biggest challenges for a company trying to keep its drivers on the road and out of the hospital. More than 50% of drivers, both male and female, are smokers. Boredom, fatigue, stress, a constantly shifting schedule and a lack of healthy food options doesn’t help. As a result, drivers tend to experience many costly health conditions, including hypertension, diabetes, joint issue, sleep apnea, cancer, substance abuse, and depression, among others.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Drivers are required to pass regular DOT physicals to manage many risk factors and conditions, so allowing these issues to continue unchecked can eventually take a driver off the road. Limited access to health care makes it harder to manage chronic conditions. With a wellness program focused managing and improving these conditions, drivers get the help they need to stay behind the wheel.

Drivers need exercise as much, if not more, than anyone else. Merely paying lip service to health, wellness and fitness doesn’t encourage your drivers to adapt to better habits – they’ve got enough on their minds and need concrete solutions, not slogans. Starting a wellness program for road-based employees can certainly be a challenge: It needs to be easy, fast to pick up and user-friendly.

One piece of good news is the fact that healthy foods are now more available on the road than before. A health coach can help your drivers identify the best food choices for their optimal health. Adding a built-in refrigerator to trucks can also encourage drivers to fill it with healthy food and snacks to take with them.

Rolling Strong is a wellness company that focuses on driver health. Their mobile platform, also called “Rolling Strong,” is a wellness and fitness program that fits in a driver’s pocket. The platform is integrated into in-cab systems and is also available via smartphone app. Drivers can keep real-time tracking of meals, exercise, sleep and can participate in company fitness challenges right from their smartphone or truck’s system.

One company that has already seen the benefits of improved driver health is Melton Trucking, headquartered in Tulsa, Oklahoma. With their holistic wellness program, Melton’s 1,100+ drivers and their families have a range of services to chose from, including fitness, free onsite health and dental care, diagnostics and screenings, health coaching and health-related financial incentives (e.g. for quitting smoking). The company’s 24/7 fitness center allows drivers to get the exercise they need after sitting for hours, and their website has an entire section for driver-centered fitness. Melton even has a dedicated YouTube channel to help drivers get started working out on the road using stretching, kettlebells and other small equipment. A “fitness-on-demand” app is also available for drivers to take with them on their phones to track progress, set goals, join company fitness challenges and set up daily reminders.

Prime, Inc., based in Springfield, Missouri, offers a 13-week program that costs drivers $300 up front, but the company reimburses them when they complete it. A road-ready fitness DVD is included that takes just 15 minutes, as well as health and nutrition information. Prime also offers fold-up bicycles that fit easily in a truck cab and allows a driver to get some much needed cardio during breaks. Support is also available to continue the program beyond the initial 13 weeks, and to encourage drivers to build on the progress and improvements they’ve already started.

Implementing wellness incentives can help your drivers take much better care of themselves, avoid weight gain and manage medical problems better. The payoff comes in improved quality of life and decreased downtime for the driver due to illness and accidents. Your company will see improvements in your safety record, have better control over insurance costs and lower workers’ comp costs. Your company will also attract better drivers and improve retention.  When drivers see that you’re concerned for their well being, morale and productivity improves.

Ironically, one of the biggest blocks to implementing a wellness program can be the very people who will benefit from it the most: your drivers. Concerns about privacy and potential termination as a result of unhealthy behavior can understandably make drivers uneasy. Of course, employee health information must always be kept confidential, and you should reassure drivers of this fact when presenting a wellness program. In addition, providing incentives, financial or otherwise, for participation can further aid driver buy-in. Once drivers embrace wellness and make changes, they recognize the benefits and realize the value of adopting new habits.

How do you implement a wellness program that’s driver-focused but doesn’t talk down to them? These are some ideas that have been used at other companies:

  • Start slowly, asking for feedback in driver meetings and company emails. How many drivers would be interested in a health & wellness program created just for them and their lifestyle?
    • Ask about their needs—eating and exercising on the road, etc.
    • Find out what they really need from the program
    • What would they like to see in a new wellness program? What don’t they want?
    • What kind of interactive resources would they need to use while they’re out on the road?
    • Will they be able to access needed medical care if they’re miles away from the terminal?
  • If your company already has a wellness program, investigate it and see how it’s working.
    • Do employees participate? How about your drivers? Why or why not?
    • Get feedback! Find out what people like about it, don’t like, why they do or don’t use it, and what can be done to improve it, particularly with the driver community.
    • What can your company add to this program to make it more user-friendly, particularly for drivers?
  • Contact a company that has already implemented a driver-focused wellness program, and ask questions. Ask about the benefits that both the company and the drivers are experiencing, and how your company can do something similar.
  • Decide if your company will handle this program in-house or outsource it to a company like Rolling Strong, or a combination of the two.
    • Consider utilizing local resources, such as schools and hospitals, who may already have health & wellness staff as well as resources available.
    • What kinds of resources can you make available to your employees? Fitness equipment and programs? Health/nutrition coaching?
  • When you’re ready to implement your wellness program, emphasize the benefits of participation
    • Offer incentives to participants—financial, etc. for things like weight loss, safe miles and smoking cessation
  • Offer preventative screenings for common conditions in drivers
    • Diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, etc. These conditions can take them off the road, possibly for good.
  • Make health & wellness a part of your safety program, your company’s culture, and make it a priority. Healthy, rested drivers are more alert, react faster and are safer drivers.

In the short term, implementing a new, well-designed health & wellness plan will take some work, and the benefits may not be immediately obvious. Wellness is not a “set-it-and-forget-it” idea, and you may need additional staff to implement and run an effective program. In the long run, though, health and wellness is a strong investment in your biggest asset: the drivers who keep your business rolling. Getting driver buy-in and promoting health and fitness education will help your drivers and your company thrive. The long-term payoff is healthier, happier drivers, reductions in insurance and other financial liabilities, and reduced accident rates. It’s a win-win for your drivers and for your company’s future.

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