While many industries and professionals have been quarantined during the recent pandemic, haulage drivers, who hold a category C licence, perform a vital function upon which human life and civilisation depends. But according to Senior Lecturer in Organisational Psychology, Sheena Johnson, and Network Research Lead and Co-ordinator for AHPD, Lynn Holdsworth, there is not enough attention for how this situation has impacted their lives.
The transport and haulage industry had been facing a struggle to maintain its staff members before the COVID-19 crisis even began. This was mostly due to a large number of older drivers reaching retirement age while too few new drivers are entering the industry.
The APHD Network has also been working hard to bring awareness of the need to protect the health and wellbeing of senior drivers. Due to the nature of their work, ageing haulage drivers are exposed to considerable health risks.
With this in mind, we can see how the precarious conditions of haulage drivers and the advent of COVID-19 have combined to create a perfect storm within the industry. To further understand this situation, we have consulted AHDP members concerning their recent experiences as the haulage company buckles under the strain.
The current crisis has impacted the haulage industry in a number of ways. Those drivers involved in food distribution and delivery services have been busier than ever, as have those who handle online orders. On the other hand, those who deliver their goods to restaurants, shops and pubs have seen a considerable decline in work.
Some well-resourced companies have been able to provide their employees with full pay or are connected to a government furlough plan. But, the reality for many drivers watching their work flow dry up has been a considerable loss of wages, often no more than statutory sick pay. This may have convinced many workers to continue their professional activities even when feeling unwell.
At the same time, there have been some important adjustments made to the transport and logistics sector of this industry that has been designed to facilitate the haulage industry beset by the COVID-19 crisis. This includes a relaxation on their driving hours and on the requirements for driver’s training.
While these changes will be very popular for some reasons, they could have negative implications as well. For example, driver’s working longer hours may be tired if they have not rested well.
This means that haulage companies have had to balance their responsibilities of keeping up with the flow of industry and still manage the health and safety of their drivers. Nevertheless, some of the drivers we interviewed suspected that companies could be taking advantage of this relaxation to cover the delivery and movement of non-essential goods.
The risks that drivers in the haulage industry face is brought into sharp focus by the fact that many of the HGV drivers in operations are ageing. The average age for HGV drivers is 57 and 13% of all HGV drivers are over 60. Professional drivers in the HGV industry are older and at greater risk to the pandemic than most because of the nature of their work.
Some of the health risks could include obesity, exposure to stress, sleep deprivations, lack of exercise and an unhealthy diet. Considering the age range and health conditions of the drivers in the haulage industry there is growing concern for these drivers in time of crisis.
Furthermore, there have been reports that haulage drivers have been denied access to hand washing facilities and bathrooms because of concern for the spread COVID-19. Nevertheless, it is essential that these drivers are allowed to wash thoroughly to prevent the spread of the virus.