·  Legal News, Analysis, & Commentary


Safety for Transportation Industry Workers

— February 4, 2020

Few would disagree that those in the transportation industry, particularly employees in trucking and freight, are the backbone of our nation’s thriving economy. The long hours and dedication that these devoted men and women put forth ensure that there is food on our tables and goods and services in our stores. It is not always an easy job, but they are glad to do it.

That is why it is important that they are given the support and assistance they need by their employers to ensure that they can do their jobs efficiently and safely. For all the truckers out there, understand that you have rights. Take the advice below and ensure safe travels.

Know Your Rights

Transportation industry workers find themselves in a unique position because instead of an eight-hour day, they have long hauls that can go on for weeks. Because of this, truckers have governing bodies that ensure that they have what they need and that they are never put in danger. All workers in America are covered by the federal agency known as OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration). On top of that, like many other industries, transportation has its own specific protections under the blanket of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act.

Under this umbrella, truckers can demand a safe working environment, and if it is not provided, then employees have the right to report the issues. If you are a private sector driver or you drive a vehicle made to transport cargo or passengers, then you are covered under the STAA. There are many situations you should not be forced into by your employer, including being forced to drive when ill, being told to make up time by breaking speed limits, and an employer that requires you to drive even if your truck has a mechanical problem such as bad breaks or defective headlights.

If your employer does make you work under dangerous circumstances, then you have a right under the STAA to be a whistleblower. Do not let your boss get away with it. It is your duty to hold them accountable, and because you are protected by this act, you cannot be fired, dismissed, or intimidated by your employer for bringing up the wrongdoing. If your claim is successful, you might also get back pay, return of attorney fees, and compensation for emotional distress. 

Night Shifts

There are many people out there who are working hard to get those in the transportation industry the rights they deserve, especially when it comes to the right to rest during long night shifts. There has been a lot of legal back and forth regarding whether sleep and rest time should be paid or not. However, there is one aspect of overnight driving that is covered under OSHA and STAA, and that is that you must not be forced to drive if you are fatigued.

Bearded man driving; image by Abdiel Ibarra, via
Bearded man driving; image by Abdiel Ibarra, via

Night shifts can be especially grueling, so you want to make absolutely sure that you get the rest that you need. As soon as you begin to feel drowsy, pull over to a safe place, and get some shut-eye. You want to make the most of your sleep, so you are well rested when you hit the road again. Try earplugs to block outside distractions and sleep in a cool and comfortable place. Avoid drinking coffee six hours before going to bed so you can get more restful sleep.

If you are fit to drive at night, make sure that you are navigating the roads safely. Never take your eyes off of the road and avoid using your phone while driving. You want to be as alert as possible during night drives and see all possible hazards, so have a clean windshield and replace windshield wipers regularly, especially during the winter season. Also, don’t be afraid to use your high beams so you can stay aware of potholes and stalled vehicles. 

Tips for Long Drives

Proper rest is key for maximum efficiency during a long haul. You don’t want to fall asleep behind the wheel when driving during the day either, so it is important to stay safe. If you don’t have a system already, encourage your company to invest in driver management software that will send alerts if you are engaging in reckless behavior like speeding or hard braking, so you are always aware of your movements.

There are other tricks you can try as well to stay alert during long drives. Depending on the time of year, it never hurts to have the air conditioning on as warmer temperatures in your cabin can lead to sleepiness. Also, fill your body with the right stuff, including plenty of water and protein snacks like nuts and sunflower seeds. Driving in silence is sure to cause boredom and weariness, so listen to some of your favorite music or a thought-provoking podcast.

Meeting deadlines is important, but you do not want to turn to negative influences to stay alert. Some transportation workers fall into the trap of using dangerous prescription medication like Adderall to keep their brain ticking, but this is a bad idea. Overuse of Adderall can lead to dangerous side effects, including blurred vision, aggressive behavior, and hallucinations. Not to mention long term heart issues. Instead, stick with natural pathways to alert and safe driving. If you feel that you are struggling with drug addiction, then get the help you need by calling the national substance abuse hotline.

Hauling freight across the country is not always the most exciting job, but it is one of the most important professions in our country. Those who work in this essential profession deserve the same quality work environment as any other career, and if they don’t get it, the time to speak up is now.

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