Safe and healthy

15 April 2008

In many recent years, our industry and our association have stepped up efforts to keep employeesways, the two concerns are interrelated.

Consider, for example, that the medical qualifications standards of the U.S. Department of Transportation's (FMCSCA) normally prohibit Federal the operation of commercial motor vehicles in interstate commerce by drivers with insulin-treated diabetes. Diabetic drivers may apply for exemptions to the rule, but FMCSA sometimes denies these requests because of concerns that the disease can result in drowsiness, loss of consciousness or disorientation in time and space

Although Type 1 diabetes is inborn, Type 2 diabetes is mainly due to the lifestyle of a person. The combination of a diet high in fats and sugar, a high alcohol intake and a sedentary lifestyle all contribute to being overweight

Unfortunately, these factors are far too common for many long-haul truck drivers who spend long hours on the road, stopping for the types of meals that give nutritionists nightmares. For that matter, employees in the crane and rigging sector face many of the same hazards.

Overweight people are far more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes because the excessive fats in the body can cause it to resist insulin. The danger intensifies for the obese – those who wei gh 20% or more than normal. Doctors traditionally prescribe a diet and exercise regime to ward off the disease

Being overweight presents other problems. Hypertension, commonly called high blood pressure, dramatically increases the chance of a heart attack, stroke or kidney disease. Many consider hypertension the biggest threat to the well-being of obese people.

Sleep apnea, the most common pulmonary problem encountered in commercial drivers, is the condition that results when excess weight, a large neck, and increased throat tissue cause loud snoring, cessation of breathing for a short time, multiple awakenings, gasping for air, and eventually sleep deprivation. Sleep apnea poses a particular threat to truck drivers and crane operators because it contributes to daytime sleepiness and lack of concentration.

Osteoarthritis, also called degenerative joint disease, is the most common type of arthritis. It is associated with a breakdown of cartilage in joints and can occur in almost any joint in the body. It often occurs because excessive weight puts undue pressure on the weight-bearing joints of the hips, knees and spine. And it makes workers old before their time.

Poor health in the workplace is an especially pressing problem for businesses in countries such as the United States, which lack socialized medicine. Providing health insurance coverage has been a growing burden for US companies.

“We have this notion that you can gorge on hot dogs, be in a pie-eating contest, and drink every day, and society will take care of you,”said Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter in the 26 February cover story of BusinessWeek. “We costs because they're not g to address their health problems.”

In response, many US companies are developing wellness programs. Employees who participate often receive discounts on healthcare premiums, free weight loss and smoking cessation programs, gym memberships, counselling for emotional problems and cash prizes or gift certificates. If you already have a safety talks program at your company, why not incorporate a unit or two on healthy lifestyles?

However, companies need to guard against becoming overzealous in their efforts to save money and keep employees healthy. About a century ago, Ford Motor Company gained notoriety for sending investigators to employees’ and that they weren't hittin g the bottle too often.

Today, Scotts Miracle-Gro Co., a company that earned kudos for its wellness program, is being sued by an employee who was fired for failing a drug test during his probationary period. The drug was nicotine

At SC&RA we will continue to monitor the important issue of employee health and keep members informed, largely through articles in our Safety & Risk Management Newsletter This quarterly newsletter is now e-mailed to all SC&RA members.

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