How can being a HGV driver affect your health?

17th May 2024

There are 304,000 HGV drivers currently working in the UK according to data by the Office of National Statistics (ONS). It is clearly a common job choice, which makes sense as it is a role that plays a vital part in the infrastructure of UK living.

One thing is common though. This career choice also has a lot of negative associations, especially when it comes to health and wellbeing. But are they deserved? 

In this post, we’ll explore the truth of the unhealthy truck driver stereotype to see how it measures up to the realities of life for the 300,000+ people currently doing this job. We’ll look at the specific challenges they face and what causes them, as well as suggest how they can be addressed.

What physical risks are there to being a HGV driver?

Common physical health risks identified for truck drivers include:

  • heart disease and high blood pressure
  • diabetes
  • cancer
  • and musculoskeletal disorders

The increased risk for these issues mainly comes from the sedentary nature of lorry driving. Drivers sit for very long periods without much physical activity and a sedentary lifestyle is known to be a massive risk factor for a wide range of illnesses.

Even if you want to exercise, truck drivers it can be difficult for truck drivers to find the time for regular exercise around long shifts and time away from home.

Of course, even being in the cab for long periods of time will impact health. When the position of your seat, the steering wheel and your posture are wrong, you can quickly start to develop issues with your body.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) reported that in 2023, around 20,000 people in the transportation industry were unable to work due to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). For truck drivers specifically, this number is likely to equal a large percentage. Many drivers will continue to work while suffering with MSDs, seeing them as a part of the job. They are also less likely to report them. 

But the unfortunate truth is that ignoring these problems will just make them worse. And the worse they get the harder they are to address.

Long hours on the road can have a serious impact on drivers’ diets too. Energy drinks and fast food usually dominate as meals are bought on the road, picked on impulse and chosen for convenience. But diets high in fat, sugar and carbs increase your risk of heart disease and diabetes too.

Being more likely to choose processed food also means that driver’s diets tend to be low in fruits and vegetables. This will further increase the risk of all the conditions listed above. As well as lowering your immune system and leaving you at higher risk of viruses.

None of these risk factors are limited to lorry drivers. Neither are they impossible to avoid. But data shows the likelihood of encountering these issues is high for HGV drivers, so it’s something to be aware of.

How can truck driving affect your mental health?

Unfortunately, not only is your physical health at risk as a truck driver. Your mental health can suffer quite significantly too.

The HSE also stated that in 2023, 30% of all ill health reported in the transportation and storage industry was down to mental health issues such as anxiety, depression or work-related stress.

For HGV drivers, this could be related to other lifestyle factors such as lack of exercise. This has been shown to harm mental health, increasing symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Interrupted sleep patterns and poor diet can also have a big impact on mental health as well as physical.

However, one of the biggest causes of poor mental health for truck drivers is loneliness. Loneliness and isolation have been shown as key factors in depression and anxiety. Unfortunately, the long hours spent on the road and days away from family and friends are unavoidable for lorry drivers and they can take a heavy toll mentally.

Do truck drivers get tired?

Another big threat to truck driver health is lack of sleep. Being on the road isn’t always conducive to a good night’s sleep, and a lot of drivers may be tempted to push through shifts on longer days and shorter nights despite their better judgment.

Of course other than the short-term risks of accidents caused by tiredness, long-term lack of sleep contributes to a lot of health issues – including those increased by lack of exercise and poor diet such as heart disease, diabetes and hypertension.

In both the short and long term it can have heavy impacts on your cognitive functions and mental health too. Brain fog, impaired judgement and reduced concentration can all be expected from both long and short-term sleep deprivation so this is a real danger.

Is being a HGV driver stressful?

On top of everything we’ve mentioned already, long-distance driving can be very stressful in itself. The pressure of driving such large vehicles or meeting strict delivery targets can have a big impact on your mental wellbeing. The isolation and lack of sleep can also contribute to stress. Being stuck in traffic, and other drivers acting dangerously or inconsiderately can also cause stress.

Work-related stress can be hard for truck drivers to recognise as it comes from so many aspects of their working conditions. It can have serious results though, making it important to address it wherever possible.

What is the life expectancy of a HGV driver?

It is clear that driving HGVs can seriously impact your health, but you might still be surprised to find out that this job can actually lower your life expectancy. Data from the Office of National Statistics shows that the life expectancy of a male truck driver is 76.6 years. This is nearly a full 4 years shorter than the average UK male life expectancy and a full 6 years less than the average for male doctors and lawyers (which is 82.5).

This is explained due to all the health reasons we’ve listed already but seeing it put so starkly can be shocking. This is why it is so important to take your health seriously as a truck driver (or employer).

How can truck drivers stay healthy?

Truck drivers can stay healthy by making the same choices that the general population makes. The issue is how much harder it is for them to make those choices.

The important thing is to stay alert to the risks and make healthy choices wherever possible. This includes picking healthy snacks and meals over a large portion of fried food. Take food with you where possible, and choose healthier snack options to achieve a more balanced diet.

Regular breaks are also vital. Even pulling over for five minutes of physical activity like walking and stretching throughout the day will make a big difference to your overall health, however insignificant they feel at the time.

Getting enough sleep is the final necessary step. Impossible as this might sound, it can be achieved even while working. Establish a regular sleeping pattern by going to sleep then waking at the same time every day – even when not working. Make sure this pattern includes at least 8 hours of sleep. When sleeping in your lorry, make sure that no light gets in using curtains or a sleep mask. Avoid stimulants like caffeine or nicotine too late in the day, and do something relaxing before sleeping.

All these suggestions can be built into the average truck driver’s life and will help protect against long term health issues.

What is the health check for HGV drivers?

In order to drive a heavy goods vehicle, you must pass a HGV Medical. This is a legal requirement and after the age of 45 you will need to renew it (also if you have certain underlying medical conditions.)

However, as we’ve seen above, truck drivers are at risk of health issues due to their job. As an employer, offering a health and wellbeing programme which includes a regular health check can help reassure you and your staff that they are healthy and safe to do their job.

Is lorry driving bad for you?

The trucking industry is not exactly a very dangerous job but it does make it difficult to lead a healthy lifestyle. If you are able to make healthy choices when it comes to eating, sleeping and exercising while out driving then you won’t find the job itself is dangerous.

Here to support you and your team

If you want to make sure your employees are at their best, our occupational health team are here to help. Whether you want targeted testing, a HGV Medical assessment or just general support we can make sure your staff stay as healthy and happy as possible at work. Speak to us today to find out more.

 

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