Drivers

The Impact of Truck Driver Wellness Programs

Of Health and Wealth: The payback on driver wellness is best measured with a different stick. Part 10 in HDT's Driver Dilemma series on the driver shortage.

November 2015, TruckingInfo.com - Feature

by David Cullen, Executive Editor - Also by this author

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Schneider’s multi-faceted health and wellness program includes a screening and treatment program to help drivers overcome the negative effects of obstructive sleep apnea. Photo: Schneider
Schneider’s multi-faceted health and wellness program includes a screening and treatment program to help drivers overcome the negative effects of obstructive sleep apnea. Photo: Schneider

It’s logical to think that helping drivers improve their physical health and general well-being will make a dent in the runaway turnover rates now endemic at many motor carriers.

Yet when executives at several large and respected long-haul fleets talk about why they rolled out driver health and wellness programs and why they keep investing in those initiatives, it’s apparent they seek to achieve something more altruistic than merely quelling driver churn.

A presentation Melton Truck Lines, Tulsa, Okla., put together this year for the Oklahoma Trucking Association on its “Culture of Wellness” says the multi-faceted program aims to “attract and retain top talent.”

But that message appears on the second slide. The first slide is decidedly personal. It recalls two revered veteran drivers whose lives were cut short by underlying health conditions that had not been addressed in time, and a third long-time driver who had to take early retirement due to poor health.

Angela Buchanan, Melton’s vice president of human resources and safety, says the nationwide flatbed carrier, which employs some 1,100 drivers, “always had health initiatives in place, but we really got serious about it eight years ago. We were inspired by those drivers who had died young from not living fully healthy lives.”

It’s not news to anyone in trucking that it’s tough to live a healthy lifestyle when driving long haul. But the degree to which drivers’ health can be impacted by life on the road is sobering. A study released last year by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found long-haul truckers were twice as likely to be obese compared to the adult working population and more likely to smoke tobacco and suffer from other risk factors for chronic disease.

NIOSH interviewed 1,670 drivers about their health and work practices and determined that 69% were obese and 54% smoked. On top of that, 88% reported having at least one risk factor (hypertension, smoking, obesity) for chronic disease.

Losing people

Buchanan says Melton also realized, not long after the Department of Transportation tightened its physical requirements for drivers, that “we were losing people who could not re-certify after their DOT physical.” In 2003, an intervention program was set up to assist drivers at risk of failing under the new criteria to get their blood pressure and glucose levels under control.

“That experience showed us how much we could help by offering a structured approach to health and wellness based on education,” Buchanan continues. In 2007 Melton hired a degreed wellness manager, Bret Bringham, and launched a weight loss program and voluntary lipid-panel blood testing, which helps determine cardiovascular risk. The same year, action spoke louder than words when the indoor smoking lounge at the main office was repurposed as, yes, an employee gym.

Melton’s new 77,000-square-foot Tulsa headquarters replaced that modest workout space with a 3,500-square-foot health and fitness area that provides equipment and lockers, a range of exercise classes and even a women-only section. Outside, there’s a landscaped walking and jogging trail, complete with workout stations.

The building is also home to Fuel Cafe, a restaurant that offers healthy meal options cooked fresh daily. An on-site medical clinic provides services free to employees. Melton also has a clinic at its Laredo, Texas, facility and provides access to “near-site clinics” for those working out of its three other terminals.

The clinics are operated for Melton by IMWell Health, based in Fort Smith, Ark. These facilities provide primary medical care to employees and family members at no cost.

“The on-site clinics are probably saving the most money,” Buchanan says, “by helping with blood pressure and diabetes and keeping people from needing to go to an ER.” This year a dentist was added to the clinic staff.

Melton also contracts with Compass Professional Health Services, Dallas, Texas, to provide a “health concierge” service that helps employees understand their medical benefits, spend less on medical care and comparison-shop among providers, including hospitals, to determine their best options.

Engagement — getting drivers and others to participate in managing and improving their own health – is a cornerstone of the Melton approach to wellness. Drivers are also engaged by various incentives and motivational programs, such as an online community to help meet fitness goals and a Melton fitness-tracking smartphone app.

A big monetary incentive was added in 2009 when the company launched a voluntary program that provides discounts on employees’ monthly health insurance premiums.

Buchanan says the iCare program encourages employees and their spouses to identify and understand major health risks so they can take action to lower them. Enrollees only need to complete a biometric screening. Those who score at least four out of five “positive health indicators” based on the iCare screening get a $500 health bonus.

“With everything we’ve been doing,” Buchanan says, “we have seen some pretty interesting results. For example, we found that after adding on-site clinics, those identified as having three medical risk factors dropped from 51 to 38% within one year. During the same time, we saw those with no risk factors increasing from 13 to 17%.

“Wellness,” she adds, “really comes down to helping those in risk of being sick get healthier and helping healthy people stay healthy.”

Buchanan concedes that it’s hard to measure the impact of the health and wellness program on driver turnover. “We do hear, especially via social media, that ‘no one else has this,’” she notes. “And when our clinics can help a driver pass his DOT physical and then stay on a healthy track with our coaching, I think that has a positive effect on recruiting and retention.”

Verve Health Coach and Registered Dietician Lauren Collins discusses nutritious eating with Celadon driver Chris Gibson at the carrier’s main medical clinic.
Verve Health Coach and Registered Dietician Lauren Collins discusses nutritious eating with Celadon driver Chris Gibson at the carrier’s main medical clinic.

Highway to health

On-site access to primary medical care is also a key feature of the “Highway to Health” driver wellness program launched in 2006 by Celadon Trucking, which employs about 3,000 drivers. This comprehensive initiative includes health screenings, health-

related seminars, diet and weight-loss programs, nutritional and exercise programs, and various incentives to promote healthy habits, says Joe Weigel, director of marketing and communications.

A full-service medical clinic at the truckload carrier’s Indianapolis headquarters first opened in 2011. It provides primary care, prescription services, disease counseling, one-on-one exercise and nutritional coaching and physical therapy for worker’s compensation rehabilitation. Employees covered under the company health insurance plan can access the clinic’s services with no copays.

Also at the Indy facility, the nationwide and international truckload carrier has installed a full basketball court, a racquetball court and a workout room equipped with weight machines, free weights, treadmills and stationary bicycles, and offers on site daily exercise classes.

“Along the way we’ve partnered with outside firms on our program, because at the end of the day, we’re a trucking company, not a wellness firm,” Weigel points out. Celadon contracts with Verve Health of Indianapolis to operate its main medical center as well as a companion clinic located at the carrier’s nearby driver-training school, which also houses a gym.

“I had thought members of our administrative staff would be the most frequent users of the clinic,” Weigel notes. “But our drivers make the heaviest use of it. Since it provides primary care, they end up having to make far fewer appointments to take care of routine tests as well as physicals.” They can also get referrals and physical therapy.

“Our driver managers do a good job of routing drivers in here if they need to be seen,” he continues. “Most come into the clinic about every three months, depending on their medical conditions.” Drivers can also call into the clinic weekly to speak with a nurse practitioner or other staffer about any concerns they have.

“I work with Joe’s team and use social media to help make drivers aware of the clinic and what it offers,” says Verve Health Coach and Registered Dietician Lauren Collins. “Drivers are often at risk for several diseases that can be prevented. The good news is that [for] drivers who want to make better health a priority, options are available. My own involvement includes providing one-on-one and phone consultations on healthy eating habits and lifestyle choices. We also work with drivers’ family members.” 

Collins sees eight or nine patients a day and reports that the clinic conducts about 70 DOT physicals a month. Add it all up, says Weigel, and the value of Celadon’s program is priceless — even though a specific return on investment may be tough to pin down.

“We certainly focus on what ‘Highway to Health’ offers when we’re recruiting drivers and painting the whole picture of what we can do for them,” he says. “Health and wellness is probably not the number-one reason they pick us. It’s more of a retention tool in that as drivers experience what the program delivers, they come to appreciate the benefits that come from healthier living.”

Photo: Melton Truck Lines
Photo: Melton Truck Lines

About the driver

Truckload giant Schneider, Green Bay, Wis., which employs over 11,400 company drivers, regards supporting driver health and wellness as part and parcel with ensuring that trucks are operated safely, according to Health and Wellness Manager Christine Schneider.

“What we do here is really about the driver,” she says, “because when they have a health issue, it impacts their ability to earn a living and provide for their families. That’s why we covered preventive care under our medical plan before that was mandated by the government. Our aim is to work with drivers to help them overcome health issues.”

The program offers a range of services, from a “nurse line” to call into and physical therapy to lifestyle coaching, and access to fitness centers and walking trails at many of the carrier’s facilities. It also includes a screening and treatment program for obstructive sleep apnea. “If a driver can get such conditions under control, it will improve their entire life,” she says.

Christine Schneider contends that the mandatory DOT physical only goes so far. “It is a preventive exam, but not a lengthy one and does not cover family history,” which can be an important indicator of health risks. “So our program’s physical goes well beyond what DOT requires. It includes taking a family history and screening for cancer. We encourage all our drivers to participate.” The information obtained from such physicals is not given to Schneider, but goes to the driver’s health plan provider, which can use it as a coaching tool.

“In addition, we have on-site coaching available,” says Schneider. “If a driver discovers a health issue, they can come in and talk one-on-one with our wellness coaches about such things as blood pressure, diet, tobacco cessation and diabetes prevention.”

The fleet also has had gyms at its larger locations for some time, and about six years ago, it began making sure each facility has a safe walking path outdoors.

Schneider figures that “it’s difficult to get to a true ROI” for the program. “But, again, our philosophy is we don’t want anything to happen that could affect their ability to make a living. And even if a driver leaves Schneider, the reality is we all share the road together. Helping improve driver health and wellness is the right thing to do.” 

Check out HDT's Ongoing Driver Shortage Coverage

HDT's Driver Shortage page includes up-to-date, in-depth articles, analysis and news about how the trucking industry is handling this difficult crisis. 

Comments

  1. 1. Stephen Tasen [ November 22, 2015 @ 12:20PM ]

    I am a former OTR dirver now 65 and remain in good health. I stopped driving in 2004.
    I had no trouble passing the DOT physical in large part due to my athletics in school.
    However, Initially I did notice a weight gain and even though I ate healthy after leaving the cab, I had a hard time losing the gained weight while driving.
    The availability of healthy food (lots of fresh fruit and vegetables) is important and has improved (I still drop in at truck stops) it has a long way to go. Equally important is the drivers mental health. The stress of being away from family affects some more than others. It was difficult for me even after divorce. I had thought an 800# for stressed out truckers would be beneficial service. Lets face it truckers have a reputation whether justified or not of being tough guys and from the language on the CB you have a hard time arguing otherwise.

 

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