Haulage drivers might be some of the most critical workers during the pandemic, but there has been little discussion regarding how they are being affected by the crisis, according to Lynn Holdsworth and Sheena Johnson that lead the Age, Health, and Professional Drivers’ (AHPD) network. Sheena is a Senior Lecturer in Organisational Psychology at the University while Lynn is the AHPD’s Network Research Lead and Co-ordinator.
Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, the transport and logistics sector was already struggling to maintain staffing numbers considering its high proportion of older workers that were about to retire and the limited number of younger drivers that are getting into the industry through Easy As HGV or similar places.
The AHPD Network has at the same time been highlighting why it is important to protect the health and wellbeing of this ageing driver workforce that’s exposed to several risks to health linked to the nature of their work.
Given this, it is hardly surprising that the COVID-19 crisis has led to the creation of something of a perfect storm in the industry. Due to this, AHPD members have been asked to share what the situation is like for them as the industry adapts and responds to the pandemic.
Impact on the Industry
The crisis has affected haulage companies in different ways. The ones involved in distributing food have been especially busy as have those that deliver online orders. Still, others have seen their work almost completely dry up: for instance, the firms that were delivering to restaurants, shops, or pubs.
While some companies have managed to offer full pay to individuals unable to work or have taken advantage of the furlough scheme provided by the government, others have offered nothing much besides statutory sick pay that may have encouraged people to continue working even while unwell for financial reasons.
Meanwhile, while responding to the pandemic, significant changes have been made to the transport and logistics sector designed to help with the flow of goods. They include relaxing driver hours thus allowing them to work longer hours as well as a relaxation of driver training requirements. While such have been welcome changes when it comes to keeping goods moving, they are expected to have implications for the safety and health of drivers, with risks such as drivers working while tired and not having sufficient rest periods.
Companies have thus had to manage a delicate balancing act of ensuring that goods keep moving and protecting drivers while operating within the new guidelines. Some drivers, however, have raised concerns regarding some companies that have taken advantage of the relaxation of driver hours to allow for the delivery of non-essential items.
Impact on Drivers
The current risk and uncertainty to drivers have been brought into even sharper focus due to the fact that the average HGV driver’s age is 57 while 13 per cent of them are over age 60. Professional drivers are recognised as being an older, and possibly less healthy workforce because of some of the health risks associated with the nature of the job.
The risks to health include an unhealthy diet, obesity, exposure to stress, lack of exercise, and sleep disturbance or deprivation. Considering the risks associated with COVID-19 to older persons and the people with underlying health conditions, there has been obvious concern regarding the health of professional drivers during this crisis.
Reports have also emerged of drivers being barred from using handwashing facilities and toilets at premises that they visit because of COVID-19 concerns. Still, it is critical that drivers are able to access such facilities to lower the risk of either catching or transmitting the virus.