According to Lynn Holdsworth and Sheena Johnson, leaders of the Age, Health, and Professional Drivers’ (AHPD) network, haulage drivers are important workers during the current pandemic. Those considering CPC training might wonder why there has not been a lot of discussion about how haulage drivers are being affected by the crisis. Lynn Holdsworth is AHPD’s co-ordinator and Network Research Lead and Sheena Johnson is an Organisational Psychology Senior Lecturer at the University of Manchester.
Before the COVID-19 crisis, the logistics and transport sector was already struggling with trying to maintain staffing numbers due to a high percentage of older workers nearing retirement and the low numbers of younger drivers joining the industry.
In recent years, the AHPD Network has also been highlighting how important it is to protect the wellbeing and health of the ageing driver workforce and exposed various health risks that are associated with this type of work.
Given all of this, it is not surprising that the current COVID-19 crisis has generated a perfect storm within the industry. As a result, we talked to AHPD members and asked them to tell us what this situation is like as the industry attempts to respond to this pandemic.
The crisis has affected haulage companies in various ways. Those in food distribution have been especially busy, along with those who deliver online orders. On the other hand, others have seen their work practically completely dry up – for instance, those who delivered to restaurants, shops, or pubs.
Although some companies have been able to provide their employees with full pay who have been unable to work or take advantage of the government’s furlough scheme, other workers have only been offered statutory sick pay, which might have encouraged some people to continue working for financial reasons whilst they were unwell.
In the meantime, in response to the COVID-19 crisis, significant changes have been made to the logistics and transport sector that are intended to help improve the flow of goods. They include relaxing driver hours so that they are allowed to work long hours. Driver training requirements have also been relaxed. Although those changes are welcome in terms of helping to keep goods moving, they are also likely to impact the safety and health of drivers, with risks including drivers not having sufficient rest periods and working whilst tired.
Therefore, companies have needed to manage a delicate balancing act of protecting their drivers and keeping goods moving, while also working within these new guidelines. Some drivers are concerned that certain companies are taking advantage of driver hours being relaxed to allow for non-essential goods delivery.
Currently, the uncertainty and risk to drivers have been brought into sharper focus due to the fact that an HGV driver’s average age is 57, and 13% are over the age of 60. Professional drivers comprise of an older workforce that is also potentially less healthy due to certain risks to health that are associated with driving.
They include sleep disturbance or deprivation, exposure to stress, lack of exercise, an unhealthy diet, and obesity. Given the associated risks that COVID-19 has for people with underlying health conditions and older individuals, there have been concerns regarding the health of drivers throughout the crisis.
In addition, there have been some reports of drivers being unable to use handwashing facilities and toilets at premises they go to due to concerns over COVID-19. However, it is critical that drivers have access to those facilities to reduce their risk of catching the virus and transmitting it to others.