The transportation industry covers a wide range of positions, but they have some things in common — including a propensity for chronic conditions that impact not only quality of life but job security as well. This makes preventive care a priority for anyone in the industry. As a union, you have a responsibility to engage your members and advise them on the measures necessary for preventing common health issues. Here's how to address this crucial topic.
Recognizing Health Concerns
Transportation workers often face stressful job conditions, lack access to healthy food options, have abnormal schedules that impact sleep and are frequently sedentary — all factors that negatively affect their health.
Cardiovascular disease is especially common. According to a study from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), those in the transportation sector are among the most likely to have cardiovascular disease risk factors, including a high body mass index (BMI), high blood pressure and low physical activity. Those same factors play into the high rate of obesity among transportation workers. Another study by NIOSH found that about 70 percent of long-haul truck drivers are obese, a rate two times higher than adults in other industries. Obesity regularly results in chronic conditions that can lead to disqualification from a commercial driver's license.
Transportation workers also experience a high degree of musculoskeletal disorders, with low back pain being the most widespread complaint. NIOSH reports that in 2014, these ailments accounted for 23 percent of all injuries and illnesses reported by bus drivers that resulted in time off the job.
Promoting Preventive Care
Providing information on how to prevent chronic conditions is the first step toward supporting members' job security and overall health. Focus on making practical suggestions that account for the rigors and time constraints of the job. Topics of discussion could include:
- Exercise. According to the Mayo Clinic, a sedentary lifestyle comes with health risks. Given their schedules, it may not be feasible to suggest that members take a walk every 30 minutes. However, you should remind them to take the opportunity to move whenever possible. A truck driver might take a walk during an unload, or a bus driver may walk the length of the bus repeatedly before the next route begins. It's also important to be active outside of work, even after a long day. This doesn't have to mean time at the gym or a strenuous workout — it can be as simple as playing outside with a child, an after-dinner walk or stretching during a commercial break.
- Relaxation. As important as physical activity is, relaxation is another large component of staying healthy. Emphasize the importance of finding an activity that makes members happy and participating in it as frequently as possible. And give them a range of tools they can use to combat stress, including suggestions for meditation apps and short breathing exercises that can calm their minds during breaks.
- Healthy eating. Encourage members to prep healthy meals packed with fruits, vegetables, protein, whole grains and other essential nutrients they can carry with them. If that's not possible, give your members recommendations for fast food chains or local restaurants that offer healthier options. Encourage them to reach for water throughout the day instead of coffee or soft drinks.
- Seeking help. No one is alone on their health journey. Remind your members of all the resources at their disposal. Encourage them to take advantage of their benefits to address any concerns — both physical and mental — and to follow their doctor's care plan.
Annual checkups are one way to help transportation workers stay healthy, but those appointments won't be effective if members aren't honest about their health concerns. Encourage your members to speak openly and honestly about their physical and mental health concerns, even if a problem seems minor. These small issues may be indicative of a larger chronic condition that could become harder to treat the longer members delay proper medical care. If possible, solicit members to share stories about their health concerns and solutions, and include those first-person accounts on your website or in a member newsletter. Other members are likely facing some of the same concerns, and it can be encouraging to hear from someone in a similar situation.
Transportation workers know they need to protect their health, but living a healthy lifestyle is a lofty ambition if they don't have support. Help members break their well-being down into achievable goals by arming them with the information they need to stay healthy, happy, productive and on the job.
Heather Kerrigan started her career in journalism at Governing magazine, reporting on state and local politics and policy, with a specific focus on public workforce, environment, health care, education and technology issues. Prior to co-founding River Horse Communications, Heather offered freelance editorial services to a variety of outlets, including serving as volume editor and lead author for SAGE Publications' Historic Documents series and editor-in-chief of The Kanter Journal. Heather also blogs for two government-focused publications, GovLoop and NEOGOV, covering issues of importance to federal employees. Heather is the author of the book Retire Rich With Your 401(k) Plan. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from The George Washington University.