Haulage drivers have been essential workers throughout the pandemic. Unfortunately, there has been little to no discussion on how the crisis is affecting them, which has concerned Lynn Holdsworth and Sheena Johnson, leaders in the Age, Health, and Professional Drivers (AHPD) Network. Lynn Holdsworth is a Network Research Lead as well as co-ordinator while Sheena Johnson is an Organisational Psychology Senior Lecturer at the University.
Even before the advent of the COVID-19 crisis, the transport and logistics industry had been facing problems with improving staffing numbers. A high number of older workers at the retirement ages are stepping out of their roles coupled with a diminishing number of younger drivers taking up jobs in the haulage industry.
Additionally, the AHPD Network has advocated for the protection of the wellbeing and health of the ageing workforce seeing that they are exposed to many different health risks associated with the nature of their occupation.
It is no surprise that COVID-19 has created some form of a perfect storm in the sector. For a better understanding of the situation, we asked AHPD members to give us insights into their situation as the industry takes response measures against the pandemic.
The health crisis has affected haulage companies. Companies plying their trade in the food distribution sector have seen the demand for their services grow considerably much the same way as the companies fulfilling online orders have experienced. On the other end of the spectrum, some transport and logistics companies have seen their work dry up. For instance, companies delivering products to shops, bars, and restaurants have been hit hard.
On the remuneration front, some companies have been able to provide full salaries to their employee despite workers not being able to work. Some companies took advantage of the government’s furlough scheme. Others still have offered the mandatory sick pay, which may have motivated some to work whilst feeling unwell.
As part of the COVID-19 response, the transport and logistics industry has undergone a lot of changes aimed at helping goods flow. Some of the changes include the relaxation of driver hours, thereby allowing drivers to work longer. Additionally, there has been a relaxation of the driver training requirements at places like the HGV Driver Training Centre to encourage more people to take up jobs in the haulage industry.
While such changes are welcome as they keep the goods moving, they are likely to have caused some negative effects. For instance, there some drivers have worked whilst they are tired due to insufficient rest periods, therefore, affecting their health and wellbeing.
Consequently, companies have had to perform a balancing act of protecting their drivers while keeping goods moving, whilst adhering to the new guidelines. There are drivers who are concerned with companies taking advantage of the changes to deliver non-essential goods.
The risks and uncertainty that drivers face are particularly of concern owing to the fact that the average of HGV drivers is 57. Additionally, 13% of the drivers are over 60 years. Professional drivers are comprised of older citizens. The drivers are potentially are less healthy owing to the health risks they face in their line of work.
Some of the health risks include an unhealthy diet, obesity, limited to lack of exercise, sleep deprivation, and exposure to enormous stress. COVID-19 has been found to be devastating for the elderly and those with underlying health conditions. As such, there are obvious concerns about the health of professional drivers.
Even worse is the report that some drivers have been denied access to sanitary facilities such as toilets and handwashing facilities at some premises owing to COVID-19 concerns. This is despite the fact that these facilities are essential for drivers to keep the risk of transmission or catching the disease as low as possible.