Fleets that take the time to include health and fitness in driver training make the roads safer for everyone

To my way of thinking, wellness is about exercise, rest, and eating right. In other words, it's not rocket science. But it is an important factor in the safety equation -- and one that fleet managers can have an impact on.

It's our responsibility to provide drivers with basic health and wellness information. That information is available at little or no cost from a variety of sources, including government agencies, colleges and universities, and trade associations.

Now that we've established the importance of health and wellness training for drivers, let's talk about specific topics. The key is to focus on issues that apply to everyone, including rest, nutrition, and exercise.

The importance of adequate rest is a good place to start, partly because driver alertness has become the focus of attention as a safety issue by everyone from the Dept. of Transportation to the medical profession. Whether or not you believe driver alertness is a serious problem, it is clearly a health issue that drivers need to understand fully. There's a mountain of printed material and video training programs on this issue -- all of it designed to help workers understand the importance of rest.

Good nutritional habits also need to be reinforced. A surprising number of adults do not fully understand the implications of eating the wrong food or of eating at inappropriate times.

Knowing what types of food contribute to driver alertness and also provide nutritional requirements can mean the difference between falling asleep at the wheel and safely completing a long trip. Most drivers will benefit from the general information available on the subject of nutrition, much of which is available from county, state, or federal health agencies.

Last but not least is exercise. Let's face it, truck driving is a sedentary occupation. Even though there is sometimes physical activity associated with the job -- loading and unloading, for example -- it doesn't meet the exercise requirements needed for drivers to be healthy and fit.

Drivers need to be in good physical condition to work safely. And to do this, they need some form of outside physical activity to maintain a healthy body. Some drivers are taking advantage of health clubs near their homes or at truck stops. But that doesn't work for everyone. Fortunately, exercise doesn't have to be that structured. Walking or riding a bike thirty minutes a day, coupled with a proper diet and adequate rest, can be enough to keep someone physically fit.

Again, the key is to keep it simple. Make drivers aware that they should find something they like to do. Whether it's walking, jogging, or riding a bicycle, the activity should be fun. It should also be something they can do without creating a logistical nightmare.

You may also need to point out that drivers shouldn't start running or biking in hilly or mountainous terrain, just as they shouldn't start a weightlifting program with 500-lb. weights. But before starting any new program of physical activity, the first thing all drivers should do is get a complete physical and discuss the exercise program with their doctor.

The payback for making the time and effort to encourage your drivers to stay physically fit should be obvious. Drivers who get adequate rest and eat properly will be happier and better able to handle the stresses of the job.

Drivers who feel good about themselves -- and realize that you care about them, too -- have good attitudes and perform better. A positive attitude affects driving skills, and drivers with good skills have fewer crashes. They also have fewer job-related injuries and miss less work. In addition, they're more likely to present a positive image -- which reflects on the company as well -- to customers.

If you take the time to encourage your drivers to improve their health and fitness, you'll make the roads and highways safer for all of us.