Remarks at the International Conference on Commercial Driver Health and Wellness



Remarks by Anne S. Ferro
FMCSA Administrator
International Conference on Commercial Driver Health and Wellness
Baltimore, MD
November 8, 2010

Introduction

Good morning everyone. I’m pleased to join Eric and Albert in welcoming you to the first ever International Conference on Commercial Driver Health and Wellness. Thank you for coming together – academics, practitioners, motor carriers large and small, insurance carriers, other types of service providers, state government representatives – all coming together for the purpose of understanding the problem of driver health and wellness and determining what can be done.

Your task is to take what you learn at this conference back to your workplaces, your employees, and carry the discussion forward. Another key group in this room – reporters – thanks for being here. Your job is to take what you learn about the important issue of driver health to the broader audience of readers.

This conference would not be possible without the herculean efforts of Albert Alvarez of FMCSA. For many years he had a vision for a conference that would present evidence-based benefits – both the return on investment and the personal side of health and wellness programs for carriers and drivers.

He has spearheaded the planning of this conference from start to finish and I want to thank you, Albert for bringing a terrific idea to life. By raising awareness and enabling further discussion of this issue, you are saving lives…today and well into the future.

I also want to thank Victoria Chapman from FMCSA who helped in the planning for this conference. Today wouldn’t be possible without the support of Rick Pain of the Transportation Research Board and consultant Jerry Krueger.

When a truck or bus hits the road, the responsibility for safety of everyone on, in or near it, rests in the hands of the driver. It’s all about the driver…. Keeping the driver healthy so that they can do their job is critical to safe operations but has been an area left untouched by many in the industry. We are here to gain a better understanding of the nature of the commercial driver health problem, receive the latest information on the success of health and wellness programs and hear how these programs can be good for business and improve safety on our nation’s highways.

We will then provide resources to help motor carriers and drivers on the path to wellness so that safety can be improved and lives saved in the process.

Focus on the Field

With your training behind you – and as you begin new duties; I want you to know that you have my full support.

You are on the front-line of FMCSA’s work and at the core of our mission. Along with our state and local partners, you have become the force multiplier that enables us to fulfill our mandate.

I expect you to live up to your personal pledge to do your best and be your best everyday; to use what you have learned here. You, in turn, should expect me and your supervisors to be open to your feedback, thoughts and opinions on how we can help you perform your crucial work.

At Headquarters, my job is to give you the tools, trained supervisors, resources and partnerships to do your job. In return, I ask you to keep your enthusiasm level high and stay above any daily frustrations that may follow.

Every inspection you will do counts. CSA drives that point home. Also, know the CSA program. Drivers will ask.

Driver Profile

What is the state of health of the typical truck or bus driver?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average life expectancy for a commercial truck driver is 61 years.
That is 16 years lower than the national average…a shocking figure. That means if I were a professional driver I would be expected to die in 8 years.

Another study found that 50 percent were either overweight or obese, compared to 33 percent of the population at large. Of all truck drivers, 54 percent smoked cigarettes; only 21 percent of the population at large smokes. And only 10% of commercial drivers exercise regularly, compared to the general adult population; 49 percent exercise regularly.

The dilemma of poor health stems from a less healthy lifestyle than the average American. Irregular schedules, long hours of work, poor diet and nutrition and the stress of driving in heavy traffic and bad weather often negatively impact a driver’s health.

While age doesn’t necessarily correlate to poor health, the age of truckers is increasing at a higher rate than the general population. A TRB study has shown that 20 to 25 percent of truck drivers are expected to be over age 65 by 2025. Facing older age coupled with a natural loss of functional abilities, doesn’t bode well if we want drivers to live healthier lifestyles.

Return on Investment

While we all want to be in good health, and I’ll bet there’s not a person in this room who doesn’t know the feeling of feeling good when you’ve taken the time to exercise, eat right, rested. We know these steps make a difference in our vitality and our productivity.

Good health is good for safety – an alert, well rested, healthy driver is able to respond to sudden incidents on the road; and there are many.

And a healthy workforce is good for business. We are finding that more businesses and carriers get it. They now know that wellness in the workplace means reduced absenteeism, injury, sickness or premature death.

Invest in health and wellness and receive a double bonus -a return on your investment and improved safety.

At this conference, you will hear a wealth of examples from diverse companies which show how programs can be adopted with cost savings.

Many carriers – particularly small ones – work on a 2 to 3 percent profit margin. Investing in a health and wellness program is something no carrier can afford to be without.

Over the last several years more studies have come out to reveal how companies that invest in employee health and wellness realize a positive return on these investments. At this conference you will hear from several carriers that made the leap into health and wellness programs for their drivers. Greer Woodruff from J.B. Hunt will be here on Tuesday to share their story. On Wednesday, we will hear from Conway Freight represented by Bob Petrancosta and Don Osterberg from Schneider National.

These programs are working in the carrier industry. Schneider National’s sleep apnea initiative has saved the company $538 dollars for per driver each month in health care savings and yielded a 55 percent greater retention rate among participating drivers than the fleet as a whole.

J.B. Hunt provides “health coaches” for its individual drivers and those who are at risk for disease are given information to help them make lifestyle change. J.B. Hunt has seen significant return on its investment from health coaches and other measures.

Because of its program, J.B Hunt has seen a reduction in the number of workers’ compensation claims and costs, a reduction in workers’ compensation claims within 90 days of hire, a reduction in crash rates and a decrease in driver turnover.

These testimonials offer us useful information to take back home.

Of course, making healthy choices ultimately rests with the driver. Drivers need to support each other in making these choices for better health – even if it starts with getting outside the truck and walking around. It all begins with the driver.

FMCSA Health and Wellness Resources

As a result of this conference, FMCSA will develop an “implementation summary” to include core elements of an effective driver health and wellness program… a template to be used by carriers of all sizes, large and small.
We expect to share this “matrix” of programs to be available by next summer and it will be sent to all participants in this conference.

FMCSA funds and manages a range of research on driver health and wellness. These include studies to identify the most critical driver risk factors through a case-control study approach. The primary factors being examined include driver demographic characteristics, medical conditions, personality traits and working conditions.

Another study being conducted will teach us more about the impact of splitting sleep into shorter periods on driver health and alertness.

We are working in cooperation with the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health – or – NIOSH – on a national survey to give us a better understanding of the health conditions and factors that affect occupational safety among truck drivers.

With our research partners at Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, we are conducting a case study of the impact of treating sleep apnea. This study will document an existing health and wellness program in commercial vehicle operations and develop a best practices guide.

The list goes on.

In the regulatory arena, FMCSA anticipates rulemakings next year on diabetes mellitus, vision and respiratory disease which includes sleep disorders.
In subsequent years, proposed changes to medical requirements may be considered for driver medical fitness for duty requirements, including cardiovascular disease, neurological disease and musculoskeletal disease and injury.

Our FMCSA Medical Review Board reviews and provides recommendations on all medical requirements. They make recommendations on an ongoing basis so we can keep up with advancements in treatments and medications as they occur. Information about the Medical Review Board’s activities can be found on the FMCSA’s web site.

And we need to make sure the process drivers use to validate that they’re physically fit – the DOT physical – is secure. The certificate for the physical, good for 2 years for most drivers and less than that for those with certain conditions – is currently a piece of paper subject to fraud.

And while the vast majority of drivers and companies adhere to the DOT physical requirements, there are folks who are obtaining the cards illegally to avoid having to meet the qualifications…folks who should not be on the road.

Therefore FMCSA has a two pronged approach involving a rule and a system to create a National Registry of medical examiners and to require electronic submission of DOT physical certification to close the loopholes that exist under the current paper-based program. It’s all part of a critical strategy to improve the medical oversight of commercial drivers.

During this conference, you will hear the latest research and findings from FMCSA medical staff on how certain diseases commonly found in the truck driving population may affect a driver’s ability to safely operate a truck or bus. Elaine Papp will tell about how cardiovascular disease affects drivers; and Dr. Benisse Lester will speak about conditions involving bones, muscles and joints.

Conclusion

In closing, I invite you to take advantage of what our two and a half day program has to offer. It truly has something for everyone.

Ultimately, it’s about raising the bar for good health in the motor carrier industry. It’s good for the driver, vital to improving the safety of CMV operations on our nation’s highways, and turns out its good for business too!

Think of today as the beginning of a movement to make personal health a bigger concern for all truckers, their families and employers.

I wish you all good health. Enjoy the conference and thank you all for being here.




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