As America’s truck drivers are working through one of the busiest times in their industry, many truckers are becoming fearful of an inability to get home easily if they are exposed to the coronavirus.
With almost two million long-haul truckers in the nation’s trucking industry, many of these drivers are part of a population likely to have diabetes, obesity, and a lack of health insurance. These complications make them particularly vulnerable to effects and complications from COVID-19.
“There are many concerns being 3,000 miles from home.” said Todd Hogan, a driver for a food trucking company. “What happens if I get sick from COVID-19? Will I ever see my family again?”
Still, our truckers must continue on, as without them, our hospitals, gas stations, and grocery stores would not be stocked. Truckers are a vital aspect of “final mile deliveries,” and, if truckers stopped working, it is currently estimated that grocery stores would be empty within a couple of days.
“We’ve worked really hard on this for the last several weeks,” said Ryder Supply Chain Solutions vice president of dedicated transportation solutions, Tom Regan. “With our procurement team, we thankfully got ahead of this on a supply front. That has been critical for us to keep all of our associates safe.”
Right now, Ryder has at least two months’ worth of critical supplies on hand, and Regan says that stockpile has been made possible due to the company being part of a supply chain. All employees share the responsibility of keeping surfaces and materials cleaned, along with a third-party cleaning service that comes regularly.
“We established metrics in terms of how much we think our drivers need,” said Regan. “Every driver gets a 16-ounce bottle of hand sanitizer every week. Until they say ‘stop,’ we’re sending it out to them. [We do the] same thing with gloves, disinfectant spray, [and] two rolls of paper towels weekly. We don’t want any driver to say they don’t have what they need to remain safe in this environment.”
For Werner Enterprises, CEO Derek Leathers said the company is implementing various methods to keep drivers healthy.
“The first line of defense is continuously trying to distribute and make available to our drivers sanitization supplies, predominantly in the form of hand sanitizer and, where available, wipes and disinfectant sprays,” said Leathers.
According to Regan, Ryder Supply Chain also has an online portal and a toll-free phone number drivers can utilize to order additional supplies. The company also uses twice-daily conference calls to get supply updates from staff.
“‘Captain of the ship’ is a term we use at Ryder,” said Regan. “That [term] basically says that if you feel something you are being asked to do is unsafe, don’t do it.”
Both Ryder and Werner are giving drivers time off when requested–especially drivers with pre-existing conditions.
“We’re letting every driver know that if they have any indication of feeling under the weather, that they are to stop what they are doing and let us know, and let us assist them with getting connected with the proper authorities,” said Leathers.
Werner is also working on implementing further education and awareness through videos and written information regarding the virus and proper practices to avoid it.
“We set up a COVID-19 hotline and email address for our drivers to be able to communicate directly any concerns or support they need,” said Leathers. “We have a telehealth line set up so they can access medical advice more readily without driving all over the place looking for a clinic or any kind of facility.”
On the other hand, though, some drivers are worried about their companies’ lack of protocol on what drivers should do if they contract the virus while on the job.
When one driver for Marten Transport, a large company that moves freight for third-party customers, began coughing and feeling feverish, the driver (who desired to remain anonymous) sent an email to the company. Marten refused to pay the driver for the time it would have taken to return the truck to the yard where the driver had left his or her car. A human resource representative at Marten told the driver to quarantine inside the truck.
“If a driver is sick, many are just taking a few days in their [trucks] to assess their health and then return to work again, because it isn’t COVID-19 they are experiencing, but flu, colds, allergies, etc.” said the HR representative in an email response to the trucker.
TFI International out of Montreal said it will make “additional financial assistance measures” available for its employees, and Landstar System said it would provide $1,000 for up to two weeks for its drivers testing positive for COVID-19.
Trucking industry powerhouses UPS, FedEx, and XPO Logistics have efficiently amended their sick-leave policies in regards to the pandemic. UPS and XPO will give 10 days of additional sick leave, and FedEx will give 14, for employees diagnosed or living with someone diagnosed with the virus.
“Typically, our focus on truck safety is geared toward hours-of-service and on-the-road driving issues,” commented Jay Stefani. “And while that certainly doesn’t go away — even in this time of crisis — it’s great to see motor carriers taking steps to protect their truck drivers’ health so they can continue to safely keep essential products in stores.”