The results of a Monash University-led study into truck driver health paint a very worrying picture.
According to the research, if nothing is done to improve the health of Australia’s male truck drivers, 6067 lives and $2.6 billion in productivity could be lost over the next 10 years.
Inaction could also cost an estimated $485 million in healthcare costs and 21,173 lost years of life due to work-related diseases or injury in the truck driving industry.
This latest research is part of the multi-stage Driving Health project, which aims to profile the health and wellbeing of Australian truck drivers.
In 2020, the industry employed about 380,000 workers and it contributed an estimated 7.4 per cent ($122.3 billion dollars) of gross domestic product (GDP) to Australia’s economy in 2015-16.
While the transport and logistics industry contributes significantly to the Australian economy, researchers say that few studies have actually explored the economic and clinical burden attributed to poor truck driver health.
Previous research has established that transport and logistics workers have worse health outcomes than those in other industries, especially musculoskeletal and trauma-related injuries.
They also have a high prevalence of cardiovascular disease, obesity, and hypertension, which has been attributed to long working hours, poor access to healthcare, exposure to physical and mental stress and other behaviours and occupational characteristics which contribute to poor health.
Monash researchers have estimated the work-related mortality burden among truck drivers, using modelling to simulate the Australian male working-age population (aged 15-65) from 2021-2030.
The approach employed is believed to be the first to explore the economic implications of the current state of driver health and wellbeing.
Researchers used data from the Driving Health study and other published sources to estimate work-related mortality and associated productivity loss, hospital and medication costs. All outcomes were discounted by five per cent per annum.
Modelling showed that reducing the health burden by two per cent could result in savings of AU$10 million in healthcare costs and AU$53 million in lost productivity.
“Despite the importance of the transport and logistics industry to the Australian economy, workers are at a greater risk of work-related injury or disease relative to other industries,” the researchers found.
“Our analyses highlight the health and economic consequences of poor driver health over the forthcoming decade, and highlight the need for interventions to reduce the burden of work-related injury or disease for truck drivers and other transport workers.”
Program Lead Associate Professor Ross Iles said Driving Health had earlier found that the health and wellbeing of truck drivers in general was poor, and a system-wide effort was needed from the transport industry to help drivers be healthy and stay at work.
“What this part of the project adds is a clear economic argument for supporting driver health and wellbeing,” he said.
“If the current state continues, there will be an enormous cost, not only for the individuals concerned, but also for the Australian economy.
“The Driving Health project found there is no easy fix, but this analysis shows that even a small improvement in driver health will lead to savings of tens of millions of dollars.”
The new paper found that a collective national effort was required to improve the health and wellbeing of Australian truck drivers to reduce the burden of work-related injury or disease for truck drivers and other transport workers.
“To date, there are limited studies exploring the long-term economic burden attributed to poor health among transport workers, and a clear economic argument for improving driver health would provide a compelling case for a collective effort across industry,” said the researchers.
Study co-author Dr Caryn Van Vreden added there were some efforts underway but they were hampered by a lack of funding and policy change from the government.
“Despite efforts to improve driver health by the industry, greater input from government and regulators is needed. This includes increases in funding and changes in policy to effect lasting change,” she said.