Look after your drivers!
Increasing numbers of skilled truck drivers are involved in accidents as a result of Aids-related illnesses and fatigue. The time is long overdue for all road transport industry role players to confront this harsh reality by assessing and helping to manage the wellness of their drivers.
While many transport companies regularly offer their drivers opportunities to check their health and general wellness voluntarily, once the tests entailed have been conducted they tend to believe that this is where their responsibility ends.
They appear not to see the advantages and benefits of managing the treatment programmes of drivers who test HIV positive by offering them a service that facilitates access to appropriate professional help. In other industries, such services have already helped thousands of productive people to manage their illnesses in ways that ensure they remain sufficiently healthy to continue working for many years.
Of course, some transport companies hide behind the mistaken belief that their drivers would not be willing to subject themselves to voluntary HIV testing. And mistaken it certainly is: research has shown that 75% of people offered a voluntary test accept that opportunity with gratitude and relief.
HIV-positive drivers deserve to be treated like any other person with a chronic illness so that, with the necessary medical attention, they can continue to do their job in a professional, safe manner and reach retirement age.
Although many drivers who are HIV-positive may appear to be physically healthy, they are nevertheless extremely stressed emotionally and psychologically, knowing that they are living with a life threatening illness that may make them too ill to continue driving and supporting their families. They also worry about the stigma generally associated with HIV/Aids and the strong possibility that their employers, colleagues and friends will simply not understand. More often than not, such high stress levels result in a loss of concentration and focus while driving, which in turn endangers the lives of all other road users and places the vehicle concerned at considerable risk.
There are major benefits to be gained by appropriately managing drivers who are HIV-positive. Research has shown that antiretroviral therapy can significantly prolong the life-span of a driver with HIV/Aids so that he or she can continue to work safely and productively. Experienced and skilled drivers are a key element in effectively reducing the operating costs of any truck or bus. It therefore goes without saying that to replace a skilled driver whose otherwise manageable illness has spun out of control is an expensive recruiting and training exercise that can and should be avoided.
The positive impact this can have on any road transport business includes a drop in driver illness-related absenteeism, as well as the number of requests for compassionate leave to attend the funerals of colleagues and family members who have already succumbed to the horrors of full-blown Aids and related opportunistic diseases such as tuberculosis (TB). Productivity levels remain high and the need to employ casual drivers – who often damage expensive truck components like clutches and gearboxes – can be eliminated.
In the first stage of the illness, a driver will need to take occasional sick leave. In the disease’s second stage, the driver will be absent for regular short periods. In the third stage of the illness, the driver is unlikely to be strong enough to work for more than two weeks in a month. The fourth and final stage of the disease inevitably means that the driver becomes permanently disabled and unable to return to work at all.
With the escalating number of truck accidents on our roads, it stands to reason that assessing and managing the wellness of our truck drivers is no longer just an option: it is imperative if our roads are to become safer and our businesses more productive.
One of this country’s most respected commercial vehicle industry authorities, VIC OLIVER has been in this industry for 45 years. Before joining the FOCUS team, he spent 15 years with Nissan Diesel, 11 years with Busaf and seven years with International.