Stress in Long Haul Truck Drivers Due to COVID-19
August 7, 2020
By Jeff Gorter MSW, LCSW
VP of Clinical Crisis Response
As most of the U.S. has sheltered in place due to the COVID-19 outbreak, an unsung and often overlooked hero has been instrumental in supporting the nation’s ability to remain safe and quarantine at home – the Long-Haul Truck Driver (LHTD). The essential role LHTDs play during the pandemic in maintaining a consistent and reliable supply chain cannot be minimized, but the reality is that most of us simply don’t even think about where our food and other supplies come from, much less how it gets to our local store.
Like all of us, LHTDs are under tremendous and unprecedented stressors in the current situation, but it helps to first understand the context of the common and chronic stressors the trucking and transportation industry faces every day, including:
- Salary Structure – to put it bluntly, money is only generated when the wheels are moving. “By-the-mile” pay, the most common form of LHTD compensation, spurs competition-driven wage declines and only provides drivers with income when their vehicles are moving. This model does not compensate for non-driving tasks that constitute a significant portion of their working time.
- Challenging Work Schedules – the long hours, shift work, and rigorous pace required to meet delivery expectations often collide with state and federal safety regulations. Maintaining regulatory compliance and meeting corporate/contractual obligations is no small task.
- Isolation – the unavoidable prolonged periods away from family, friends, and community create a level of social isolation that is hard to overcome with just a few days back at home.
- Healthy Work-Life Balance – the unique nature of long-haul trucking necessitates that their worksites are their homes for extended periods. Access to typical lifestyle amenities such as healthy food, physical exercise, medical care, etc. are sporadic at best.
The pervasive and unpredictable nature of the COVID-19 crisis brings a unique set of stressors to commercial drivers that mirror or build on the above, including:
- Intense Role Pressure – LHTDs have now been thrust into the crucial position of “lynchpin” for the nation’s survival as shelter in place requires supplies, the majority of which are delivered by commercial drivers. All of us remember the initial shortages of food, hygiene, and healthcare products when the shutdown began, and many areas continue to have rolling and unexpected shortages, increasing the strain for drivers to deliver now!
- Economic Downturn – paradoxically, there is a simultaneous industry-wide slow down. The closure of many restaurants, retail locations, and manufacturing facilities has also severely restricted a major source of revenue for LHTDs, as long-established delivery schedules have been disrupted, with no clear indication of when these predictable routes will resume.
- Realistic “Paranoia” – the fear of getting sick 1000’s of miles from home is powerful and pervasive. LHTDs are going in and out of uncertain areas, including coronavirus hot spots, with widely varying practices around social distancing and protection practices. Regular and consistent access to PPE can be a challenge, as some larger trucking companies routinely provide drivers with these resources and others do not. Finally, despite a deeply ingrained industry value of safety first, the frequently changing federal, state, and municipal rules/guidelines around COVID-19 makes adherence to a prevention plan a moving target.
As is often the case in any complex problem, a multi-pronged approach is needed to address these systemic stressors. First, given the mobile nature of the industry, technology must be leveraged to deliver behavioral health support to LHTDs, regardless of physical location. By offering a curated library of written and video educational materials, commercial drivers can be empowered with strategies and techniques to manage the rigors of the road. Through the use of a specially programmed “chatbot”, users can be guided to the resource that best meets their needs, without a frustrating search. Finally, immediate app-enabled access to trained counselors provides the emotional support and encouragement for any commercial driver during this unprecedented time, whenever and wherever they need it.
R3 Continuum can help you devise a plan to maintain the well-being and productivity of your drivers. Call us for a consultation.
Ensure the physical and psychological safety and security of your organization. Talk to us.